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Proc Biol Sci. 2006 Nov 22;273(1603):2821-9.

Dark nests and egg colour in birds: a possible functional role of ultraviolet reflectance in egg detectability.

Author information

  • 1Departamento de Ecología Funcional y Evolutiva, Estación Experimental de Zonas Aridas, General Segura 1, 04001 Almería, Spain. javiles@eeza.csic.es

Abstract

Owing to the conspicuousness of ultraviolet (UV) colour in dark environments, natural selection might have selected UV egg coloration because it would enhance egg detectability by parents in murky nests. Here, we tested this hypothesis by using comparative and experimental approaches. First, we studied variation in egg coloration of 98 species of European passerines measured using UV-visible reflectance spectrometry (300-700nm) in relation to nesting habits. Analyses based on raw data and controlling for phylogenetic distances both at the species and the family levels revealed that hole-nester species produced eggs with higher UV reflectance than those nesting in open habitats. The experimental approach consisted of the manipulation of UV reflectance of the experimental eggs introduced outside the nest-cup of the hole-nester spotless starling Sturnus unicolor and the study of the retrieval of these eggs. Ultraviolet-reflecting eggs (controls) were more frequently retrieved to the nest-cup than non-reflecting (-UV) eggs. These results were not due to '-UV' eggs being recognized by starlings as parasitic because when a parasitic egg is detected, starlings removed it from the nest-box. Therefore, these results are consistent with the hypothesis that UV egg colours are designed to provide highly detectable targets for parent birds in dark nest environments.

PMID:
17015364
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC1664626
Free PMC Article

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