Colour signals are expected to match visual sensitivities of intended receivers. In birds, evolutionary shifts from violet-sensitive (V-type) to ultraviolet-sensitive (U-type) vision have been linked to increased prevalence of colours rich in shortwave reflectance (ultraviolet/blue), presumably due to better perception of such colours by U-type vision. Here we provide the first test of this widespread idea using fairy-wrens and allies (Family Maluridae) as a model, a family where shifts in visual sensitivities from V- to U-type eyes are associated with male nuptial plumage rich in ultraviolet/blue colours. Using psychophysical visual models, we compared the performance of both types of visual systems at two tasks: (i) detecting contrast between male plumage colours and natural backgrounds, and (ii) perceiving intraspecific chromatic variation in male plumage. While U-type outperforms V-type vision at both tasks, the crucial test here is whether U-type vision performs better at detecting and discriminating ultraviolet/blue colours when compared with other colours. This was true for detecting contrast between plumage colours and natural backgrounds (i), but not for discriminating intraspecific variability (ii). Our data indicate that selection to maximize conspicuousness to conspecifics may have led to the correlation between ultraviolet/blue colours and U-type vision in this clade of birds.
- Received July 31, 2012.
- Accepted October 5, 2012.
- This journal is © 2012 The Royal Society