Expression of and choice for condition-dependent carotenoid-based color in an urbanizing context

Mathieu Giraudeau, Matthew B. Toomey, Pierce Hutton, Kevin McGraw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Urban environments create a unique suite of conditions, leading to changes in animal behavior, morphology, phenology, and physiology. Condition-dependent traits such as the carotenoid-based coloration offer a unique opportunity to assess the impacts of urbanization on organisms because they reflect the nutrition, health, or other resource-based attributes of their bearers and they play an essential role in intra and intersex interactions. To determine if and how the carotenoid-based coloration of male house finches (Haemorhous mexicanus) varies along a gradient of urbanization, we quantified the plumage coloration of more than 1000 individuals in urban, suburban, rural, and desert habitats over the course of 17 months. We also examined for the first time the preference of females for male plumage coloration across the urban-rural gradient, to test if and how female preferences varied relative to the plumage coloration displayed by males in their local population. We found that carotenoid-based coloration decreased along the gradient of urbanization, suggesting that the enzyme-driven metabolic conversion of dietary carotenoids into red carotenoids used to color plumage is sensitive to urban stressors. The stronger negative effect of urbanization on carotenoid-based plumage coloration during breeding than during molt and winter suggests that urbanization affects color fading rate, maybe through modifications of feather-degrading bacterial load. Finally, we have shown that urbanization influences female mate-choice behavior, suggesting that female color preferences may track the variation in male coloration across the gradient of urbanization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1307-1315
Number of pages9
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2018


  • Carotenoid
  • Coloration
  • Condition-dependent traits
  • Mate choice
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Expression of and choice for condition-dependent carotenoid-based color in an urbanizing context'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this