RESEARCH ARTICLE


The Utility of Plumage Coloration for Taxonomic and Ecological Studies



Eben H. Paxton*
U. S. Geological Survey Southwest Biological Science Center, Box 5614, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA


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© 2009 Eben H. Paxton

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode). This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the U. S. Geological Survey Southwest Biological Science Center, Box 5614, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA; E-mail: Eben.Paxton@nau.edu


Abstract

Plumage coloration in birds serve multiple purposes, including species recognition, sexual selection cues, and camouflage. Differences in plumage coloration can be used to infer evolutionary relationships, identify distinct taxonomic units, and characterize geographic variation. With the advent of electronic devices to quantify plumage coloration quickly and reliably, taxonomic or geographic differences can be exploited for ecological studies. To evaluate the utility of plum-age coloration for taxonomic and ecological studies, I review the basis of plumage coloration and sources of variation. I then review how different studies have used plumage coloration to better understand taxonomic relationships and provide insights into ecological problems.