What Are We Not Asking Symposium:
Proposal by Price
Understanding the diversity of color in nature continues to be a great challenge. The past 20 years have seen a surge of interest in sensory drive, the idea that environmental conditions generate selection pressures for certain colors and patterns. This promising approach cannot explain the entire diversity of colors and may only explain a small fraction, because of the inherent arbitrariness of social signals. Other advances in the past 10 years include a much better understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying color production, the genes involved, and some work on color perception. However, our understanding of color perception and how it varies across the animal kingdom remains in a quite rudimentary state; until recently for example birds were basically seen as falling into two groups, those with and without shortwave length shifted UV perception, but we now know even closely related species differ. However, we do not know what the consequences of these differences are. Here, I argue that an important way forward is a better integration of visual ecology with color divergence. The co-evolution of color and color perception can be placed in a theoretical framework that has been developed for social evolution in general. Focusing on birds, I outline the current state of knowledge, how much we do not know, and possible physiological, genetic and behavioral studies that could be undertaken. Overall, a much better understanding of color vision in animals will surely lead to a much better understanding of color diversification.