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Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots

Parrots and allies (Order Psittaciformes) have evolved an exclusive capacity to synthesize polyene pigments called psittacofulvins at feather follicles, which allows them to produce a striking diversity of pigmentation phenotypes. Melanins are polymers constituting the most abundant pigments in animals, and the sulphurated form (pheomelanin) produces colors that are similar to those produced by psittacofulvins. However, the differential contribution of these pigments to psittaciform phenotypic diversity has not been investigated. Given the color redundancy, and physiological limitations associated to pheomelanin synthesis, this study assumed that the latter would be avoided by psittaciform birds. This hypothesis was tested by using Raman spectroscopy to identify pigments in feathers exhibiting colors suspicious of being produced by pheomelanin (i.e., dull red, yellow and grey- and green-brownish) in 26 species from the three main lineages of Psittaciformes. The non-sulphurated melanin form (eumelanin) were detected in black, grey and brown plumage patches, and psittacofulvins in red, yellow and green patches, but no evidence of pheomelanin was found. As natural melanins are assumed to be composed of eumelanin and pheomelanin in varying ratios, these results represent the first report of impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in animals. Given that psittaciforms also avoid the uptake of circulating carotenoid pigments, these birds seem to have evolved a capacity to avoid functional redundancy between pigments, likely by regulating follicular gene expression. The study provides the first vibrational characterization of different psittacofulvin-based colors and thus helps to determine the relative polyene chain length in these pigments, which is related to their antireductant protection activity. informacion[at] Neves et al (2020) Impairment of mixed melanin-based pigmentation in parrots. J Experim Biol. DOI 10.1242/jeb.225912
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Why do kestrels soar?

Why do kestrels soar?

Individuals allocate considerable amounts of energy to movement, which ultimately affects their ability to survive and reproduce. Birds fly by flapping their wings, which is dependent on the chemical energy produced by muscle work, or use soaring-gliding flight, in which chemical energy is replaced with energy harvested from moving air masses, such as thermals. Flapping flight requires more energy than soaring-gliding flight, and this difference in the use of energy increases with body mass. However, soaring-gliding results in lower speeds than flapping, especially for small species. Birds therefore face a trade-off between energy and time costs when deciding which flight strategy to use. Raptors are a group of large birds that typically soar. As relatively light weight raptors, falcons can either soar on weak thermals or fly by flapping with low energy costs. In this paper, we study the flight behavior of the insectivorous lesser kestrel (Falco naumanni) during foraging trips and the influence of solar radiation, which we have adopted as a proxy for thermal formation, on kestrel flight variables. We tracked 35 individuals from two colonies using high frequency GPS-dataloggers over four consecutive breeding seasons. Contrary to expectations, kestrels relied heavily on thermal soaring when foraging, especially during periods of high solar radiation. This produced a circadian pattern in the kestrel flight strategy that led to a spatial segregation of foraging areas. Kestrels flapped towards foraging areas close to the colony when thermals were not available. However, as soon as thermals were formed, they soared on them towards foraging areas far from the colony, especially when they were surrounded by poor foraging habitats. This reduced the chick provisioning rate at the colony. Given that lesser kestrels have a preference for feeding on large insects, and considering the average distance they cover to capture them during foraging trips, to commute using flapping flight would result in a negative energy balance for the family group. Our results show that lesser kestrels prioritize saving energy when foraging, suggesting that kestrels are more energy than time-constrained during the breeding season. informacion[at] Hernández-Pliego et al (2015) Why Do Kestrels Soar? PLoS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145402