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J Exp Biol. 2019 Jun 10;222(Pt 11). pii: jeb205229. doi: 10.1242/jeb.205229.

Unique evolution of vitamin A as an external pigment in tropical starlings.

Author information

1
Department of Evolutionary Ecology, Doñana Biological Station, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), 41092 Sevilla, Spain galvan@ebd.csic.es.
2
Regional Institute for Applied Scientific Research (IRICA), University of Castilla-La Mancha, 13071 Ciudad Real, Spain.
3
Department of Analytical Chemistry and Food Technology, Faculty of Chemical Science and Technology, University of Castilla-La Mancha, 13071 Ciudad Real, Spain.
4
Laboratory of Non-Invasive Analytical Techniques, National Museum of Natural Sciences, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), 28006 Madrid, Spain.
5
Department of Analytical Chemistry and Food Technology, Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Castilla-La Mancha, 02071 Albacete, Spain.

Abstract

Pigments are largely responsible for the appearance of organisms. Most biological pigments derive from the metabolism of shikimic acid (melanins), mevalonic acid (carotenoids) or levulinic acid (porphyrins), which thus generate the observed diversity of external phenotypes. Starlings are generally dark birds despite iridescence in feathers, but 10% of species have evolved plumage pigmentation comprising bright colors that are known to be produced only by carotenoids. However, using micro-Raman spectroscopy, we have discovered that the bright yellow plumage coloration of one of these species, the Afrotropical golden-breasted starling Cosmopsarus regius, is not produced by carotenoids, but by vitamin A (all-trans-retinol). This is the first organism reported to deposit significant amounts of vitamin A in its integument and use it as a body pigment. Phylogenetic reconstructions reveal that the retinol-based pigmentation of the golden-breasted starling has independently appeared in the starling family from dark ancestors. Our study thus unveils a unique evolution of a new class of external pigments consisting of retinoids.

KEYWORDS:

Biological pigments; Birds; Carotenoids; Color evolution; Retinol

PMID:
31097603
DOI:
10.1242/jeb.205229

Conflict of interest statement

Competing interestsThe authors declare no competing or financial interests.

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