The Biology of Colour

Swansea University Evolutionary Biologist Dr Kevin Arbuckle is one of the leading academics researching the biology of colour.

Coloration is a vitally important biological trait because it is involved in individual survival and with reproduction through camouflage, warning coloration, mate choice, social signalling, thwarting parasitism, as well as thermoregulation. 

In the last 20 years, the field of animal coloration research has been propelled forward very rapidly by technological advances. These include spectrophotometry, digital imaging, innovative laboratory and field studies, and large scale comparative analyses each of which are allowing completely new questions to be asked. 

Hummingbird‌PHOTOS: © Mary Caswell Stoddard

For example, we now recognise that other organisms see the world differently from humans. We understand the mechanisms underlying of colour production, and studies of function have advanced through elegant field and lab experiments. Interspecific colour measurements collected at a geographic scale are even shedding light on the dynamics of evolutionary processes. 

We can now pose questions about the evolution of camouflage based on what a prey’s main predator can see. We can start to appreciate that gene changes underlying colour production have occurred in parallel in unrelated species. Knowledge of production and perception and function of coloration is poised to make contributions to medicine, security, clothing and the military. 

In a wide-ranging and comprehensive review, a group of evolutionary biologists, behavioural ecologists, psychologists, optical physicists, visual physiologists, geneticists and anthropologists turn their attention to this diverse area of science, daunting to the outsider, and set out what they believe are the key questions for the future. 

Read the full article here