Data from: Feather melanin and micro-structure variation in dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) across an elevational gradient in the Selkirk Mountains
de Zwaan, Devin R.; Greenwood, Jennifer L.; Martin, Kathy (2016), Data from: Feather melanin and micro-structure variation in dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis) across an elevational gradient in the Selkirk Mountains, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.ks53j
Variation in feather melanism and microstructure can arise through sexual selection and ecological functional drivers. Melanin-based plumage traits are associated with sexual dichromatism and the intensity of sexual selection in many avian species, but also have several ecological benefits such as protection against ultra-violet (UV) radiation, camouflage, and feather strength. Additionally, feather microstructure influences thermoregulation. Plumage variation across species is well documented; however, the relative role of sexual selection and ecological drivers in intra-specific and within-population variation is less established. We investigated UV reflectance, melanism, and feather microstructure in a population of Oregon dark-eyed juncos Junco hyemalis oreganus between high (1900–2200 m a.s.l.) and low (450–800 m a.s.l.) elevations in the Selkirk Mountains to evaluate potential sexual selection and ecological drivers of variation. We found no difference in UV reflectance or lightness (melanism) of head feathers between elevations, but individuals at high elevation had lighter (less melanism) and less brown (less pheomelanin) body contour feathers than at low elevations. High elevation individuals also had longer contour feathers with more pronounced plumulaceous regions. Sexual dichromatism did not vary between elevations, leading us to reject sexual selection in favour of ecological functional drivers of plumage variation in this system. To our knowledge, this is the first study to identify within-population differences in feather melanism and microstructure between different elevations.