Publications and Research

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

December 2014

Abstract

Although egg color is generally consistent within individual birds and robust to environmental variation, recent evidence suggests a degree of susceptibility to environmental perturbation or modulation of egg color. Most of this variation manifests via the physiology of the laying female, but some direct impacts of the environment on laid eggs have also been discovered. Here we test whether light changes bird egg color and we quantify its effect, by subjecting variable blue-green eggs of Rüppell's weaver (Ploceus galbula) to a broad-spectrum light source under laboratory conditions, and measuring egg reflectance every few hours. Eggshells gradually decreased in reflectance across the entire measured wavelength spectrum of 250–800 nm. Reflectance peaks were disproportionately affected, such that the height decreased of both the blue-green peak and the smaller UV peak typical of blue-green eggs. The reflectance of lighter eggs was affected slightly more than that of darker eggs. These changes are similar to previous results for changes over long periods of time in darkness, suggesting that light might hasten the same process of pigment degradation that proceeds even without light. Comparison between the experimental light source and both sunlight and typical artificial lighting situations raises the possibility that significant color change might occur during incubation in some birds, but indicates that eggshell illumination in museums for short periods of study is unlikely to affect their color to a detectable extent. Additional research should be performed on eggs of other species and in other light environments, with an eye to an eventual generalized model of the effect of light on eggshell color.

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