Are avian eggshell colours effective intraspecific communication signals in the Muscicapoidea? A perceptual modelling approach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • JG Ewen
  • NJ Marshall
  • M Vorobyev
  • TM Blackburn
  • ME Hauber

Colleges, School and Institutes


Diversity in the colour and appearance of avian eggshells has been proposed to serve a variety of visual functions, including crypsis from predation, mimicry and discrimination in facultative and obligate brood parasitism, and sexually selected intraspecific signalling of the extent of maternal investment in the egg. Here, we apply a photoreceptor noise-limited colour opponent model of avian perception to assess a necessary corollary of any intraspecific signalling hypothesis, namely that individual birds are able to discriminate between colours of eggs in different conspecific clutches. Clutches from 46 species in the superfamily Muscicapoidea were measured at the Natural History Museum collection in Tring, UK. The results demonstrate that, for these particular species, most eggs are predicted not to be easily discriminable from those in other conspecific clutches in terms of the shells' background coloration. These findings are of fundamental concern to any signalling hypothesis that looks to explain the evolution of avian-visible egg colour polymorphism through selection at the intraspecific level. Importantly, future studies should combine both the proximate mechanisms and the ultimate functions of trait variability when testing hypotheses of the variability in eggshell appearance.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)689-698
Number of pages10
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2009


  • sexual selection, visual perception, communication, signals