Aaah yes the tropics. The lands of white beaches, palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and exotic animals flitting among the treetrops. Though this image of the tropics may be coloured by the rose tinted glasses of many a tourist posctard, one thing might be true – the tropics are host to a slightly more colourful chunk of global biodiversity. Early naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Alexander von Humbolt were quick to note that the tropical species tend to be more colourful than their temperate counterparts. That being said, no one has been able to sit down and prove this rule of latitudinal colourfullness (more colourful species at lower latitudes) – until now.
A team of researchers has finally been able to quantify colourfulness in passerine bird species and indeed there is a strong latitudinal gradient for both sexes! This is pretty cool since it means that not only are males more colourful but so are the females (who are often more drab in colour than males of the same species). Although the reason for this colourfulness gradient is still unclear, it is pretty neat that researchers have taken a step towards seeing if this rule exists – although if this rule still holds for other species such as insects is a whole other question!
Read more: Latitudinal gradients in avian colourfulness
Tanya Strydom is a PhD candidate at the Université de Montréal, mostly focusing on how we can use machine learning and artificial intelligence in ecology. Current research interests include (but are not limited to) predicting ecological networks, the role species traits and scale in ecological networks, general computer (and maths) geekiness, and a (seemingly) ever growing list of side projects. Tweets (sometimes related to actual science) can be found @TanyaS_08.