Eggshell pigment composition covaries with phylogeny but not with life history or with nesting ecology traits of British passerines

Kaat Brulez, Steve Portugal, Phillip Cassey

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No single hypothesis is likely to explain the diversity in eggshell coloration and patterning across birds, suggesting that eggshell appearance is most likely to have evolved to fulfill many nonexclusive functions. By controlling for nonindependent phylogenetic associations between related species, we describe this diversity using museum eggshells of 71 British breeding passerine species to examine how eggshell pigment composition and concentrations vary with phylogeny and with life-history and nesting ecology traits. Across species, concentrations of biliverdin and protoporphyrin, the two main pigments found in eggshells, were strongly and positively correlated, and both pigments strongly covaried with phylogenetic relatedness. Controlling for phylogeny, cavity-nesting species laid eggs with lower protoporphyrin concentrations in the shell, while higher biliverdin concentrations were associated with thicker eggshells for species of all nest types. Overall, these relationships between eggshell pigment concentrations and the biology of passerines are similar to those previously found in nonpasserine eggs, and imply that phylogenetic dependence must be considered across the class in further explanations of the functional significance of avian eggshell coloration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1637–1645
Number of pages9
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number6
Early online date12 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2016

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