Palaeocolour: A History and State of the Art

  • Fiann Smithwick
  • Jakob VintherEmail author
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


Colour plays a key role in the ecology of living birds and has undoubtedly been important throughout their evolutionary history. Colour patterns influence all aspects of avian ecology, including interspecific communication such as predator-prey dynamics and intraspecific signalling such as sexual selection. The past decade has seen a revolution in our understanding of how colour influenced avian evolution in deep time. From the overturning of the paradigm that lithified bacteria were responsible for vertebrate integumentary preservation to the development of analytical techniques used to probe pigment preservation, we review the origins and development of the field of palaeocolour. We also explore how palaeocolour reconstructions in extinct dinosaurs have informed us about the ecologies and behaviours of long-extinct taxa that would otherwise be difficult to determine. This exemplifies the utility of palaeocolour in deepening our understanding of past life, particularly early avian evolution. Palaeocolour work is also helping unravel the intricacies of feather preservation and in turn has furthered our understanding of soft tissue taphonomy more generally.



We thank the editors for their encouragement and patience with us in producing this book chapter as well as Gerald Mayr and others at the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt, for access of specimens.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth SciencesUniversity of BristolBristolUK

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