Visual signalling in animals and plants
For a complete understanding, colour in nature must be studied from multiple perspectives. The mechanisms of colour production include not only pigments, but also the properties of cell surfaces and structures within insect body coverings such as skin, hair, feathers and cuticle.
These properties underlie the intense, direction-dependent and hue-changing iridescent colours seen in a hummingbird’s throat patch or a jewel beetle’s wing cases. How such colours are produced raises fascinating research questions ranging from the photonics of production to their function and evolution.
BVI researchers Nick Roberts, Heather Whitney, Innes Cuthill and Nick Scott-Samuel are investigating these topics through modelling of visual perception and cognitive mechanisms such as learning and memory, in the receivers of the colour signals, whether intended (e.g. a mate to be impressed) or not (a predator seeking prey). This integrated approach also sheds light on important applied questions ranging from plant-pollinator ecology to the design of warning signage in urban environments.