Unscrambling variation in avian eggshell colour and patterning in a continent-wide study

Kiara L. L'Herpiniere*, Louis G. O'Neill, Andrew F. Russell, Daisy Englert Duursma, Simon C. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)
    20 Downloads (Pure)


    The evolutionary drivers underlying marked variation in the pigmentation of eggs within many avian species remains unclear. The leading hypotheses proposed to explain such variation advocate the roles of genetic differences, signalling and/or structural integrity. One means of testing among these hypotheses is to capitalize on museum collections of eggs obtained throughout a broad geographical range of a species to ensure sufficient variation in predictors pertaining to each hypothesis. Here, we measured coloration and patterning in eggs from 272 clutches of Australian magpies (Cracticus tibicen) collected across most of their geographical range of ca 7 million km2; encompassing eight subspecies, variation in environmental parameters, and the presence/absence of a brood parasite. We found considerable variation in background colour, as well as in the extent and distribution of patterning across eggs. There was little evidence that this variation was explained by subspecies or the contemporary presence of a brood parasite. However, measures of maximum temperature, leaf area index and soil calcium all contributed to variation in egg appearance, although their explanatory power was relatively low. Our results suggest that multiple factors combine to influence egg appearance in this species, and that even in species with highly variable eggs, coloration is not readily explained.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number181269
    Pages (from-to)1-16
    Number of pages16
    JournalRoyal Society Open Science
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2019

    Bibliographical note

    Copyright the Author(s) 2019. 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.


    • antimicrobial
    • brood parasite
    • maculation
    • signalling
    • solar radiation
    • structural


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