A gene for red colour vision that originated in the reptile lineage around 250m years ago has resulted in the bright red bird feathers and ‘painted’ turtles we see today, and may be evidence that dinosaurs could see as many shades of red as birds - and perhaps even displayed more red than we might think.
By following honeyguides, a species of bird, people in Africa are able to locate bees’ nests to harvest honey. Research now reveals that humans use special calls to solicit the help of honeyguides and that honeyguides actively recruit appropriate human partners. This relationship is a rare example of cooperation between humans and free-living animals.
Latest research suggests a new mechanism for how sexual displays of red beaks and plumage might be ‘honest signals’ of mate quality, as genes that convert yellow dietary pigments into red share cofactors with enzymes that aid detoxification – hinting that redness is a genetic sign of the ability to better metabolise harmful substances.
Claire Spottiswoode (Department of Zoology) and Marjorie Sorensen (Goethe University Frankfurt am Main) discuss why several species of migratory songbirds sing a great deal in Africa when their breeding grounds are thousands of kilometres away.
Professor Nick Davies, who gives this week’s Darwin Lecture, has been studying reed warblers for more than 30 years – and has unlocked many of the secrets of their interactions with the cuckoo. His work shines light on the evolutionary games played out in nature as species compete with environmental pressures, with other species, and with the opposite sex, to pass on their genes.