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!
Switch-in-a-cell electrifies life
18.12.2018 | Rice University
Plant biologists identify mechanism behind transition from insect to wind pollination
18.12.2018 | University of Toronto
Researchers from the University of Basel have reported a new method that allows the physical state of just a few atoms or molecules within a network to be controlled. It is based on the spontaneous self-organization of molecules into extensive networks with pores about one nanometer in size. In the journal ‘small’, the physicists reported on their investigations, which could be of particular importance for the development of new storage devices.
Around the world, researchers are attempting to shrink data storage devices to achieve as large a storage capacity in as small a space as possible. In almost...
The more objects we make "smart," from watches to entire buildings, the greater the need for these devices to store and retrieve massive amounts of data quickly without consuming too much power.
Millions of new memory cells could be part of a computer chip and provide that speed and energy savings, thanks to the discovery of a previously unobserved...
What if, instead of turning up the thermostat, you could warm up with high-tech, flexible patches sewn into your clothes - while significantly reducing your...
A widely used diabetes medication combined with an antihypertensive drug specifically inhibits tumor growth – this was discovered by researchers from the University of Basel’s Biozentrum two years ago. In a follow-up study, recently published in “Cell Reports”, the scientists report that this drug cocktail induces cancer cell death by switching off their energy supply.
The widely used anti-diabetes drug metformin not only reduces blood sugar but also has an anti-cancer effect. However, the metformin dose commonly used in the...
A research team from the University of Zurich has developed a new drone that can retract its propeller arms in flight and make itself small to fit through narrow gaps and holes. This is particularly useful when searching for victims of natural disasters.
Inspecting a damaged building after an earthquake or during a fire is exactly the kind of job that human rescuers would like drones to do for them. A flying...
12.12.2018 | Event News
10.12.2018 | Event News
06.12.2018 | Event News
18.12.2018 | Materials Sciences
18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
18.12.2018 | Physics and Astronomy