Nav: Home

The biology of color

August 03, 2017

Scientists are on a threshold of a new era of color science due largely to an explosion of technologies, but key questions remain for the field, according to a study in the journal Science by an international team of researchers led by Tim Caro of the University of California, Davis.

While studies have long used color as a factor for understanding evolution, only recently have visual physiologists, sensory and behavioral ecologists, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists come together to study how color is produced and perceived by animals and its function and patterns of evolution. With this wide-ranging synthesis, "The Biology of Color," such a multidisciplinary group provides a roadmap of advances in the field of animal coloration, as well as remaining challenges.

"In the past 20 years, the field of animal coloration research has been propelled forward very rapidly by technological advances," said corresponding author Tim Caro, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology. "These include digital imaging, innovative laboratory and field studies and large-scale comparative analyses, each of which are allowing completely new questions to be asked."

Coloration is a complicated biological trait. Animals use it for camouflage, to send warning signals, attract mates, send social signals, regulate their body temperature and thwart pests, among other uses.

Caro's own research has helped clarify long-held mysteries about animal coloration. This includes why zebras have black and white stripes (to avoid biting flies) and why pandas are black and white (to camouflage in both snow and dark forests, since they need to eat year-round).

Among the advances, the study notes that scientists now recognize that other animals see the world differently from humans. Researchers now understand the mechanisms underlying color production, and color measurements collected at a geographic scale are shedding light on the dynamics of evolutionary processes.

For instance, scientists can now pose questions about the evolution of camouflage based on what a prey's main predator can see. They also see how gene changes underlying color production have parallels across unrelated species. Such research can contribute to advances in medicine, security, clothing and the military.

Challenges include learning how color is integrated with other sensory information. For instance, how a swallowtail butterfly responds to color can change depending on how its host plant smells. Additional challenges include a better understanding of the neural mechanisms by which color influences behavior, and creating techniques to better analyze the role of color in animal patterns and motion.

A workshop where the study's ideas were formulated was funded by the Institute of Advanced Study in Berlin (Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin.)
-end-


University of California - Davis

Related Evolution Articles:

Artificial evolution of an industry
A research team has taken a deep dive into the newly emerging domain of 'forward-looking' business strategies that show firms have far more ability to actively influence the future of their markets than once thought.
Paleontology: Experiments in evolution
A new find from Patagonia sheds light on the evolution of large predatory dinosaurs.
A window into evolution
The C4 cycle supercharges photosynthesis and evolved independently more than 62 times.
Is evolution predictable?
An international team of scientists working with Heliconius butterflies at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama was faced with a mystery: how do pairs of unrelated butterflies from Peru to Costa Rica evolve nearly the same wing-color patterns over and over again?
Predicting evolution
A new method of 're-barcoding' DNA allows scientists to track rapid evolution in yeast.
Insect evolution: Insect evolution
Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have shown that the incidence of midge and fly larvae in amber is far higher than previously thought.
Evolution of aesthetic dentistry
One of the main goals of dental treatment is to mimic teeth and design smiles in the most natural and aesthetic manner, based on the individual and specific needs of the patient.
An evolution in the understanding of evolution
In an open-source research paper, a UVA Engineering professor and her former Ph.D. student share a new, more accurate method for modeling evolutionary change.
Chemical evolution -- One-pot wonder
Before life, there was RNA: Scientists at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich show how the four different letters of this genetic alphabet could be created from simple precursor molecules on early Earth -- under the same environmental conditions.
Catching evolution in the act
Researchers have produced some of the first evidence that shows that artificial selection and natural selection act on the same genes, a hypothesis predicted by Charles Darwin in 1859.
More Evolution News and Evolution Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Space
One of the most consistent questions we get at the show is from parents who want to know which episodes are kid-friendly and which aren't. So today, we're releasing a separate feed, Radiolab for Kids. To kick it off, we're rerunning an all-time favorite episode: Space. In the 60's, space exploration was an American obsession. This hour, we chart the path from romance to increasing cynicism. We begin with Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan, with a story about the Voyager expedition, true love, and a golden record that travels through space. And astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson explains the Coepernican Principle, and just how insignificant we are. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.