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A trade‐off between overheating and camouflage on shorebird eggshell colouration

Gómez, Jesús, Pereira, Ana I., Pérez‐Hurtado, Alejandro, Castro, Macarena, Ramo, Cristina, Amat, Juan A.
Journal of avian biology 2016 v.47 no.3 pp. 346-353
Charadriidae, Coturnix japonica, adults, ambient temperature, birds, color, digital images, egg shell, eggs, microprocessors, nests, pigmentation, pigments, risk, solar radiation, tropics, wavelengths
In ground‐nesting birds egg colour and appearance may have evolved due to opposite selection pressures. Pigmentation and spottiness make the eggs darker and have been suggested to improve camouflage. However darker and more spotted eggs may reach higher temperatures when not attended by adults and receiving direct sunlight, which may be lethal for embryos. Some authors suggested that this trade‐off may not exist because eggshell pigments mainly reflect in the infrared region of the solar spectrum, but have not considered that wavelengths in the visible part of the spectrum may also contribute to overheating. To test the occurrence of a trade‐off between camouflage and overheating of eggs, we took digital images to analyse colour and camouflage in 93 nests of four shorebird species (two stilts and two plovers) in two regions (tropical and mediterranean sites). We predicted that these species (closely related) may have evolved different eggshell designs depending on solar radiation, which is supposed to be stronger in the Tropics. To record egg temperatures, we placed Japanese quail eggs in natural nests of shorebirds, and registered temperatures using a datalogger. We found that darker and more spotted eggs reached higher temperatures than lighter ones, and that after controlling for environmental temperatures, eggs overheated more in the Tropics, likely because of a more intense solar radiation. We also found that tropical shorebirds’ eggshells have darker spots and lighter backgrounds. Overall, darker eggs were better camouflaged. Taken together, our results show that the benefits of increasing pigmentation of eggshell backgrounds and spottiness for a better camouflage are counteracted by the increased risks of overheating when eggs remain exposed to direct solar radiation.