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B302: Co-evolution of colour vision and coloration in colourful songbirds (Lead Supervisor: Nick Mundy, Zoology)

Supervisor: Nick Mundy (Zoology)

Importance of the area of research:

The project is important for understanding coevolution of signals and sensory systems. Colour vision has been generally regarded as conservative in birds but new work is leading to a reassessment. Our recent discovery of a gene underlying both red coloration and colour vision (CYP2J19) suggests that coevolution of these systems may even be occurring at the genetic level.

Project summary:

The project will investigate whether sexual selection on bright red and yellow coloration in birds is reflected in evolution of colour vision. This will be achieved by examining evolution and expression of major genes involved in two components of colour vision, the opsin photopigments and coloured oil droplets. The main study system is the ploceid finches, which have large variation in carotenoid-based sexually selected plumage coloration, from red to yellow to an absence of bright coloration.

What the student will do:

The main component is labwork to sequence and quantify expression in the target genes. You will be investigating whether there is an association between evolution of genes related to colour vision and coloration. You will also test the prediction that sexual selection acting on different sexes will lead to sex-biased differences in gene expression. The genetic data to be obtained include gene sequences and gene expression data. There will be some fieldwork in Africa to collect samples, and an opportunity to do some colour vision modelling.

Please contact the lead supervisor directly for further information relating to what the successful applicant will be expected to do, training to be provided, and any specific educational background requirements.


Mundy, N. I. et al. (2016) Red carotenoid coloration in the zebra finch is controlled by a cytochrome P450 gene cluster. Current Biology 26, 1435-1440.

Bloch, N. (2015) Evolution of opsin expression in birds driven by sexual selection and habitat. Proceedings of Royal Society B, 282, 20142321.

Follow this link to find out about how to apply for this project.

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