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Data from: Brain size and the expression of pheomelanin-based colour in birds

Cite this dataset

Galván, Ismael; Møller, Anders P. (2011). Data from: Brain size and the expression of pheomelanin-based colour in birds [Dataset]. Dryad.


Eumelanin and pheomelanin are the most common vertebrate pigments. They generate different colours and are synthesized under different physiological conditions. While pheomelanogenesis requires high levels of a key intracellular antioxidant (glutathione, GSH), eumelanogenesis is inhibited by GSH. This implies that species that present the molecular basis to produce large amounts of pheomelanin might be more limited to perform other costly processes that generate oxidative stress than species that produce eumelanin. Brain development requires large amounts of energy and antioxidants during ontogeny, so that large-brained species may be constrained in their simultaneous synthesis of large amounts of pheomelanin, but not in their synthesis of eumelanin. Here we tested this hypothesis in a large dataset of 323 bird species. After controlling for the effects of phylogeny, latitude and sexual dichromatism, the proportion of pheomelanic plumage colour was strongly negatively related to the relative brain mass of species, while no relationship was found for the proportion of eumelanic colour. This indicates that the production of pheomelanin is a costly process that cannot evolve together with complex neural structures and thus with large cognitive capacity. This is the first time that the expression of melanic traits is found to correlate with another phenotypic character across species.

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