Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 33, Issue 6, pp 873–887 | Cite as

Pheomelanin-based coloration is related to individual quality and oxidative stress in blue petrels

  • Sarah LeclaireEmail author
  • Samuel Perret
  • Ismael Galván
  • Francesco Bonadonna
Original Paper


In several species, the rusty color of hair or feathers is due to pheomelanin pigments, whose adaptive function is unknown. Pheomelanin may be costly because it is phototoxic and its production consumes a key intracellular antioxidant. Pheomelanin-based traits are, however, positively associated with individual quality in several bird species, where they have thus been suggested to have evolved through sexual selection. Here we investigated the signaling potential of the pheomelanin-based coloration of the crown feathers in the blue petrel. Although this pelagic seabird is nocturnal at the breeding colony and breeds within deep burrows, it might use visual communication when settled on the water during daytime. We tested the correlation between crown color and several fitness-related traits, and we found that higher-quality females displayed less-orange crown than poorer-quality females. This result is inconsistent with an adaptive function of pheomelanin-based coloration in inter-, or intra-, sexual selection in females. We suggest that it might, however, be in line with a signaling function of eumelanin-based coloration, if inter-individual variations in orange coloration are mainly due to eumelanin-to-pheomelanin ratio, rather than to pheomelanin quantity. In contrast to females, we did not find strong evidence for associations between melanin-based coloration and individual quality in males, suggesting sex-specific selective pressures on melanin-based traits in this species.


Birds Pheomelanin Signals Feathers Oxidative stress Procellariidae 



We thank Joris Laborie for his help during fieldwork, and Felipe Ramon-Portugal and Gilles Espinasse for their help during the first stage of pigment characterization. This work was supported by the Institut Polaire Français Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV, Program No. 354 to F.B.), and by a PDOC grant from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (No. ANR-13-PDOC-0002 to S.L.). This study was approved by the French Ethical Committee (APAFIS#: 9496-201707131540776v2), after favorable recommendation by the “comité d’éthique pour l’expérimentation animale - Languedoc-Roussillon”, and the ethical committees of “réserve naturelle des Terres Australes et Antarctiques Françaises (TAAF)” and of “Institut Polaire Rrançais Paul-Emile Victor (IPEV)”.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10682_2019_10010_MOESM1_ESM.docx (183 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 182 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratoire Evolution & Diversité Biologique (EDB UMR 5174)Université Fédérale de Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées, CNRS, IRD, UPSToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Centre d’Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Evolutive, CNRS–CEFEMontpellierFrance
  3. 3.Departamento de Ecología EvolutivaEstación Biológica de Doñana, CSICSevilleSpain

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