Evolution of sexual dichromatism: Contribution of carotenoid- versus melanin-based coloration

Alexander V. Badyaev, Geoffrey E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

239 Scopus citations


In birds, carotenoid-based plumage coloration is more dependent on physical condition and foraging abilities and less constrained developmentally than is melanin-based coloration. Thus, female mate choice for honest signals should result in more intense sexual selection on carotenoid- than on melanin-based plumage coloration. Using variation in sexual dimorphism as an indirect measure of the intensity of sexual selection, we tested the prediction that variation in sexual dimorphism is driven more by change in carotenoid-based coloration between males and females than by change in melanin-based coloration. Examination of historical changes in carotenoid- versus melanin-based pigmentation in 126 extant species of Cardueline finches supported this prediction. We found that carotenoid-derived coloration changed more frequently among congeners than melanin-based coloration. In both sexes, increase in carotenoid-based coloration score, but not in melanin-based coloration score, was strongly associated with increase in sexual dichromatism. In addition, sexual dimorphism in carotenoid-based coloration contributed more to overall dichromatism than dimorphism in melanin-based plumage. Our results supported the hypothesis that melanin-based and carotenoid-based coloration have fundamentally different signal content and suggest that combining melanin-based and carotenoid-based coloration in comparative analyses is not appropriate. (C) 2000 The Linnean Society of London.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-172
Number of pages20
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000


  • Cardueline finches
  • Carotenoids
  • Melanins
  • Sexual dichromatism
  • Sexual selection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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