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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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Nocturnal birds could communicate through the fluorescence of their feathers

Nocturnal birds could communicate through the fluorescence of their feathers

Many nocturnal animals, including invertebrates such as scorpions and a variety of vertebrate species, including toadlets, flying squirrels, owls, and nightjars, emit bright fluorescence under ultraviolet light. However, the ecological significance of this unique coloration so attached to nocturnality remains obscure. An intensively studied population of migratory red-necked nightjars (Caprimulgus ruficollis) was used to investigate inter-individual variation in porphyrin-based pink fluorescence according to sex, age, body condition, time of the year, and the extent of white plumage patches known to be involved in sexual communication. Males and females exhibited a similar extent of pink fluorescence on the under-side of the wings in both juvenile and adult birds, but males had larger white patches than females. Body condition predicted the extent of pink fluorescence in juvenile birds, but not in adults. On average, the extent of pink fluorescence in juveniles increased by ca. 20% for every 10-g increase in body mass. For both age classes, there was a slight seasonal increase (1–4% per week) in the amount of fluorescence. These results suggest that the porphyrin-based coloration of nightjars might signal individual quality, at least in their first potential breeding season, although the ability of these and other nocturnal birds to perceive fluorescence remains to be unequivocally proven. información[at] Camacho et al (2019) Correlates of individual variation in the porphyrin-based fluorescence of red-necked nightjars (Caprimulgus ruficollis). Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-019-55522-y