Plumage traits have been studied intensely for more than a century, especially bright and exaggerated plumage. A large body of evidence across a range of avian taxa supports sexual selection as a major evolutionary force acting on plumage colors. The discovery of ultraviolet (UV) coloration in avian plumage resulted in the extension of sexual selection hypotheses to explain the evolution of potential UV plumage traits. However, there have been no comparative evolutionary studies elucidating the origin of UV signals in birds. Here, I used a comparative phylogenetic approach to investigate the evolution of chromatic UV plumage colors in the grackles-and-allies clade of the New World blackbirds (Icteridae). On the basis of reflectance data collected from museum study skins, I have determined that UV plumage signals have evolved multiple times from an ancestral condition that lacked UV plumage signals, with very few unambiguous reversals. Although UV plumage has evolved in both males and females, there have been significantly more evolutionary changes in male UV plumage characters. Concentrated changes tests and correlations of independent contrasts reveal evidence for sexual selection of some male UV plumage characters, as well as an increase in UV plumage coloration for species found in open habitats. These results support the use of objective assessments of avian colors (i.e. spectrophotometry) to properly interpret patterns of plumage evolution generally, and they suggest the need for behavioral studies on the function of chromatic UV signals in several blackbird species.
Una Perspectiva Filogenética sobre la Evolución de la Coloración Ultravioleta en los Changos y Chamones (Icteridae)