Avian evolution has generated an impressive array of patterns and colors in the ∼10,000 bird species that exist on Earth. Recently, a number of exciting studies have utilized whole-genome sequencing to reveal new details on the genetics of avian plumage color. These findings provide compelling evidence for genes that underlie plumage variation across a wide variety of bird species (e.g., juncos, warblers, seedeaters, and estrildid finches). While much is known about large, body-wide color changes, these species exhibit discrete color differences across small plumage patches. Many genetic differences appear to be located in regulatory regions of genes rather than in protein-coding regions, suggesting gene expression is playing a large role in the control of these color patches. Taken together, these studies have the potential to broadly facilitate further research of sexual selection and evolution in these charismatic taxa.
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Vol. 136 • No. 4