Differential ability of carotenoid C4-oxygenation in yellow and red bishop species (Euplectes spp.)
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2009

Male breeding plumages of African widowbirds and bishops (Euplectes spp.) show striking variation in carotenoid-based plumage coloration, with saturated yellow or orange-red patches of different size. Yet, from observations and experiments, agonistic signaling appears to have been a generalized sexual selection pressure for redness in the genus. Recent results show that yellow and red widowbird colors derive from distinctly different pigment profiles, and suggest that species vary in their ability to metabolize ingested carotenoids. We used reflectance spectrometry and High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to describe the species-specific colors and plumage carotenoids of the congeneric yellow-crowned bishop (E. afer) and southern red bishop (E. orix). Results show that the yellow rump color of E. afer primarily derives from direct-deposited, dietary yellow pigments, i.e. lutein and zeaxanthin. In the red breast of E. orix, these are complemented by smaller amounts of derived red C4-keto-carotenoids: mainly α-doradexanthin, but also β-doradexanthin, canthaxanthin, astaxanthin and adonirubin. We also performed a diet supplementation experiment to investigate the relative importance of nutritional and metabolic constraints in determining the differential occurrence of C4-keto-carotenoids, and thus red plumage color, in the two species. Our results indicate that E. orix, but not E. afer, can manufacture red C4-keto-carotenoids (α-doradexanthin and canthaxanthin) from yellow dietary precursors (lutein and β-carotene).


Metabolic constraints

Sexual selection


Color signaling


Maria Prager

Göteborgs universitet

Anette Johansson

Göteborgs universitet

Staffan Andersson

Göteborgs universitet

Comparative Biochemistry And Physiology B-Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Vol. 154 373-380


Biokemi och molekylärbiologi

Biologiska vetenskaper



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