The majority of colorful pigmented plumage in birds is produced by carotenoids - the organic compounds that birds cannot synthesize de novo, but instead consume with food. Here we review recent work that shows that dependency on dietary carotenoids and mechanisms modulating this dependency play a key role in evolution of avian carotenoid-based coloration. Despite of millions of years of evolution, diversification of avian carotenoid biosynthesis still largely reflects the structure of the global carotenoid biosynthesis network that evolved long before the origin of birds. This structure allows us to derive the expected frequency of convergence in plumage coloration in extant birds, shows that avian evolutionary diversification depends on redundancy of dietary carotenoids, and predicts different potentials for diversification of carotenoid coloration among historically distant and ecologically distinct avian groups. In turn, observed deviations from these structural expectations, guide the search for functional significance of variation in carotenoid pigmentation in contemporary birds.
- Biochemical network
- Carotenoid pigmentation
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics