, Volume 180, Issue 1, pp 23–32 | Cite as

Viability selection affects black but not yellow plumage colour in greenfinches

  • Peeter HõrakEmail author
  • Marju Männiste
Physiological ecology - Original research


Much of the debate surrounding the selective forces responsible for the expression of conspicuous plumage colouration is centred on the question of precisely which individual qualities are signalled by carotenoid- and melanin-based pigments. To examine this and other related issues, we performed viability selection analyses in wild-caught captive male greenfinches (Carduelis chloris) in Estonia during winters between 2003 and 2014. Based on our measurements, birds with a darker black eumelanin-based colouration of tail feathers survived better than those whose tail feathers had a paler black colouration. The carotenoid-based yellow colouration of the same feathers was not associated with mortality in captivity and showed much less between-year variation in the field than the black colouration. Between year-variation in the black (but not yellow) colouration of feathers was parallel in wild-grown feathers (on birds in the wild) and laboratory-grown ones (on birds held temporarily in captivity). Taken together, these findings imply that eumelanotic colouration in greenfinches is currently under selection and suggest the presence of sufficient genetic variation for a rapid response to selection. In particular, tail feathers have become darker black since the emergence of avian trichomonosis, which is known to selectively kill paler individuals.


Carduelis chloris Carotenoids Eumelanin Plumage colouration Survival selection 



We thank Indrek Ots, Lauri Saks, Elin Sild, Ulvi Karu, Tuul Sepp, Richard Meitern and Mari-Ann Lind for the help with bird catching and maintenance, Toomas Tammaru for statistical advice, and Jaanis Lodjak for help with the graphics. T. Sepp, two anonymous reviewers and AE provided constructive criticism on the manuscript. R. Meitern helped with programming, and Olavi Vainu from Matsalu Ringing Centre kindly provided data on recoveries of Fennoscandian greenfinches. Mati Martinson was of invaluable help with catching the birds in Saaremaa. The study was financed by the Estonian Ministry of Education and Science (Target-Financing project #0180004s09 and Institutional Research grant IUT34-8) and by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence Frontiers in Biodiversity Research).

Author contribution statement

PH and MM conceived the study; MM performed the measurements of plumage colouration; PH & and MM analysed the data; PH wrote the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

442_2015_3451_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (252 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 252 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Institute of Ecology and Earth SciencesTartu UniversityTartuEstonia

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