“Reconstructing Evolution of Cacique Carotenoid Color”
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Kevin Omland
Department of Biological Sciences
This project focuses on the evolution of plumage color in caciques, a group of Central and South American blackbirds. Like many bird species, caciques use carotenoid pigments to create colorful plumage. Unlike orioles which have been similarly studied, caciques do not show a complete continuum of colors from yellow through various oranges to red. Rather, they seem to be divided into a “yellow” group and a “red” group, with no orange intermediates. Over the past year, I have gathered quantitative color data on these birds to determine if the “yellow” and “red” caciques are indeed two discrete groups. I used these data to reconstruct the evolution of cacique carotenoid color to deduce the color of the ancestral cacique and examine color change over evolutionary time. Work in the coming year will focus on the other, and often more time-consuming part of the scientific process, sharing and publishing results. It is critical to learn to communicate effectively to diverse audiences and in many different formats. I will be preparing a manuscript for publication in a peer-review biology journal, presenting this work at one or more scientific meetings, and otherwise working to learn the communication skills necessary in research biology. Much of this time will be spent at the Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, where I will learn not only to communicate about my work across disciplines, but also across culture and language barriers.