It's not going to happen while you're peering through your binoculars, but African glossy starlings change color more than 10 times faster than their ancestors and even their modern relatives, according to researchers at The University of Akron and Columbia University.
African glossy starlings change color more than 10 times faster than their ancestors and even their modern relatives, according to researchers at The University of Akron and Columbia University. And these relatively rapid changes have led to new species of birds with color combinations previously unseen, according to the study funded in part by the National Science Foundation and published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
Credit: Dustin Rubenstein, Columbia University
And these relatively rapid changes have led to new species of birds with color combinations previously unseen, according to the study funded in part by the National Science Foundation and published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
"Many people enjoy bird watching because all of the different, beautiful colors of feathers, but this study gives us a closer look into the story of how these colors came to be, and how they changed over their millions of years of evolution," said Rafael Maia, the study's lead author and a graduate student in the Integrated Bioscience program at UA.
Just like bar cruisers who don flashy clothes before a night out, birds use feathers to attract the opposite sex and intimidate the competition.
"The feathers aren't just there for flying," Maia said.
The team of scientists used analysis of microscopic feather structures, spectral color analysis, and evolutionary modeling to analyze patterns of evolution in African starlings, a diverse group of primarily brightly colored birds known for their metallic sheens. (By comparison, the European starling – the only starling found in the United States – is a drab creature.)
The researchers focused mainly on the different forms of feather melanosomes, the parts of cells (organelles) that carry the dark pigment melanin. Melanosomes are found in all vertebrates and most typically show up as black, brown or gray. But in birds, melanosomes are sometimes organized in a way that interacts especially with light to create colorful, metallic, and often iridescent feathers. The melanosomes of the African starling groups evolved to become especially suited to react with light of various wavelengths, according to the researchers.
The ancestors of today's starlings reached Africa about 17 million years ago and back then most likely had simple, rod-like melanosomes that are found in most bird species, according to the study. As the ancient starlings of Africa started to split into new species, new melanosome types began to emerge. Some species retained the ancestral rods, while others shed them for one of three unusual forms of melanosomes: hollow rods, solid flattened rods, and hollow flattened rods.
Some of the nearly 10,000 species of birds in the world also have some of these modified melanosomes, but – as a group – African starlings are the only birds to have all four types among them.
"With the appearance of these new shapes comes new ways of interacting with light, and a whole range of colors that these birds could never have made before can now be produced in their feathers," said Maia.
These African Starlings didn't just leave their simple bland relatives behind slowly. When they took on the new melanosome types, they began to sport spiffier plumage more than 10 times faster than their kin."Evolving these new melanosomes was like inventing the wheel for these birds—it allowed starlings to reach new colors at an incredibly fast rate" said Matt Shawkey, co-author of the study and UA associate professor of biology and integrated bioscience.
"And since birds of a feather flock together and all that," said Shawkey, new colors may enable new social groups to form quickly and halt breeding with the rest of the population. Alternatively, bird populations may diverge because of physical barriers such as mountains, and new colors may help keep them separated when the two populations meet again. Either of these processes could lead to the birth of a new species, and may explain why the more colorful starlings, with modified melanosomes and their fast-evolving color palette, also form new species more readily."Like some other classic evolutionary innovations, these elaborate ornaments seem to have promoted diversification at a relatively fast rate. However, they do so not by allowing you to eat something new, but just by changing your look." says Maia.
Laura Martinez Massie | EurekAlert!
Don't Give the Slightest Chance to Toxic Elements in Medicinal Products
23.03.2018 | Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)
North and South Cooperation to Combat Tuberculosis
22.03.2018 | Universität Zürich
Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.
The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...
An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.
The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...
In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.
Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...
Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.
They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...
A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...
23.03.2018 | Event News
19.03.2018 | Event News
16.03.2018 | Event News
23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences
23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy