Cortex Thickness Is Key for the Colors of Iridescent Starling Feather Barbules With a Single, Organized Melanosome Layer

Pascal Freyer, Bodo D. Wilts, Doekele G. Stavenga*

*Bijbehorende auteur voor dit werk

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

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The iridescent plumage of many birds is structurally colored due to an orderly arrangement of melanosomes in their feather barbules. Here, we investigated the blue- to purple-colored feathers of the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris) and the blue and green feathers of the Cape starling (Lamprotornis nitens). In both cases, the barbules contain essentially a single layer of melanosomes, but in S. vulgaris they are solid and rod-shaped, and in L. nitens they are hollow and rod- as well as platelet-shaped. We analyzed the coloration of the feathers by applying imaging scatterometry, bifurcated-probe- and micro-spectrophotometry. The reflectance spectra of the feathers of the European starling showed multiple peaks and a distinct, single peak for the Cape starling feathers. Assuming that the barbules of the two starling species contain a simple multilayer, consisting locally only of a cortex plus a single layer of melanosomes, we interpret the experimental data by applying effective-medium-multilayer modeling. The optical modeling provides quantitative insight into the function of the keratin cortex thickness, being the principal factor to determine the peak wavelength of the reflectance bands; the melanosome layer only plays a minor role. The air cavity in the hollow melanosomes of the Cape starling creates a strongly enhanced refractive index contrast, thus very effectively causing a high reflectance.

Originele taal-2English
Artikelnummer746254
Aantal pagina's13
TijdschriftFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Volume9
DOI's
StatusPublished - 19-nov-2021

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