How to generate and test hypotheses about colour: insights from half a century of guppy research

Darrell J. Kemp, David N. Reznick, Jeffrey Arendt, Cedric van den Berg, John A. Endler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Coloration facilitates evolutionary investigations in nature because the interaction between genotype, phenotype and environment is relatively accessible. In a landmark set of studies, Endler addressed this complexity by demonstrating that the evolution of male Trinidadian guppy coloration is shaped by the local balance between selection for mate attractiveness versus crypsis. This became a textbook paradigm for how antagonistic selective pressures may determine evolutionary trajectories in nature. However, recent studies have challenged the generality of this paradigm. Here, we respond to these challenges by reviewing five important yet underappreciated factors that contribute to colour pattern evolution: (i) among-population variation in female preference and correlated variation in male coloration, (ii) differences in how predators versus conspecifics view males, (iii) biased assessment of pigmentary versus structural coloration, (iv) the importance of accounting for multi-species predator communities, and (v) the importance of considering the multivariate genetic architecture and multivariate context of selection and how sexual selection encourages polymorphic divergence. We elaborate these issues using two challenging papers. Our purpose is not to criticize but to point out the potential pitfalls in colour research and to emphasize the depth of consideration necessary for testing evolutionary hypotheses using complex multi-trait phenotypes such as guppy colour patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20222492
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2000
Early online date7 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2023. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • avoiding analytic errors
  • colour pattern analysis
  • colour pattern evolution
  • colour pattern perception
  • colour patterns


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