Feathers iridescence sheds light on the assembly rules of humingbirds communities

Sébastien Lavergne based on reviews by 2 anonymous reviewers

A recommendation of:
Hugo Gruson, Marianne Elias, Juan L. Parra, Christine Andraud, Serge Berthier, Claire Doutrelant, Doris Gomez. Distribution of iridescent colours in hummingbird communities results from the interplay between selection for camouflage and communication (2019), bioRxiv, 586362, ver. 5 peer-reviewed and recommended by Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology. 10.1101/586362
Submitted: 29 March 2019, Recommended: 13 November 2019
Cite this recommendation as:
Sébastien Lavergne (2019) Feathers iridescence sheds light on the assembly rules of humingbirds communities. Peer Community in Evolutionary Biology, 100086. 10.24072/pci.evolbiol.100086

Ecology needs rules stipulating how species distributions and ecological communities should be assembled along environmental gradients, but few rules have yet emerged in the ecological literature. The search of ecogeographical rules governing the spatial variation of birds colours has recently known an upsurge of interest in the litterature [1]. Most studies have, however, looked at pigmentary colours and not structural colours (e.g. iridescence), although it is know that color perception by animals (both birds and their predators) can be strongly influenced by light diffraction causing iridescence patterns on feathers.
In the present study [2], the authors study ca. 190 ecological communities of hummingbirds as a function of their iridescent colors, in a large study zone spanning varied habitats across Ecuador. They show that colour composition of local hummingbirds communities are shaped by two main processes :
(i) phenotyping clustering of birds with similar dorsal colours, due to local selection of species with similar camouflages against predators (i.e. some sort of mimetic circles).
(ii) phenotypic overdispersion of birds with distinct facial and ventral colours, resulting from character displacement and limiting reproductive interference.
I found this second result particularly interesting because it adds to the mounting evidence that character displacement (also for songs or olfactory signaling) allow local coexistence between closely-related bird species once they have reached secondary sympatry. It is important to note that not all color patches though to be involved in sexual selection followed this overdispersion rule -- throat and crown color patches were not found overdispersed. This suggests that further investigation is needed to determine how color variation shape the structure of hummingbird communities, or bird communities in general.
Another notable quality of the present study is that it is making extensive use of museum specimens and thus shows that very innovative research can be performed with museum collections.

References

[1] Delhey, K. (2019). A review of Gloger’s rule, an ecogeographical rule of colour: definitions, interpretations and evidence. Biological Reviews, 94(4), 1294–1316. doi: 10.1111/brv.12503
[2] Gruson, H., Elias, M., Parra, J. L., Andraud, C., Berthier, S., Doutrelant, C., & Gomez, D. (2019). Distribution of iridescent colours in hummingbird communities results from the interplay between selection for camouflage and communication. BioRxiv, 586362, v5 peer-reviewed and recommended by PCI Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1101/586362