Dissecting Carotenoid from Structural Components of Carotenoid-Based Coloration: A Field Experiment with Great Tits (Parus major)

Jacot, Alain; Romero-Diaz, Cristina; Tschirren, Barbara; Richner, Heinz; Fitze, Patrick S. (2010). Dissecting Carotenoid from Structural Components of Carotenoid-Based Coloration: A Field Experiment with Great Tits (Parus major). The American naturalist, 176(1), pp. 55-62. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press 10.1086/653000

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Carotenoid-based yellowish to red plumage colors are widespread visual signals used in sexual and social communication. To understand their ultimate signaling functions, it is important to identify the proximate mechanism promoting variation in coloration. Carotenoid-based colors combine structural and pigmentary components, but the importance of the contribution of structural components to variation in pigment-based colors (i.e., carotenoid-based colors) has been undervalued. In a field experiment with great tits (Parus major), we combined a brood size manipulation with a simultaneous carotenoid supplementation in order to disentangle the effects of carotenoid availability and early growth condition on different components of the yellow breast feathers. By defining independent measures of feather carotenoid content (absolute carotenoid chroma) and background structure (background reflectance), we demonstrate that environmental factors experienced during the nestling period, namely, early growth conditions and carotenoid availability, contribute independently to variation in yellow plumage coloration. While early growth conditions affected the background reflectance of the plumage, the availability of carotenoids affected the absolute carotenoid chroma, the peak of maximum ultraviolet reflectance, and the overall shape, that is, chromatic information of the reflectance curves. These findings demonstrate that environment-induced variation in background structure contributes significantly to intraspecific variation in yellow carotenoid-based plumage coloration.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE) > Evolutionary Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Richner, Heinz






University of Chicago Press




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:17

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:04

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:



https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/5233 (FactScience: 209963)

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