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Our main current areas of research is the evolutionary genetics of plumage coloration in birds and the co-evolution of coloration and colour vision in vertebrates. We are particularly interested in systems where we have a realistic chance of a comprehensive understanding of the genetic basis of adaptations, from causative mutations through to the adaptive phenotype via biochemical/physiological mechanisms.

A strong current interest is in the genetics of carotenoid coloration which up to now has been severely neglected. We recently made the exciting discovery of a locus involved in converting dietary yellow carotenoids to bright red carotenoids for colour displays in birds, that is opening up many novel avenues of research.

We also have a longstanding interest in the genetics of melanin-based coloration in birds, and are extending early studies on single locus polymorphisms underlying melanism to the evolution and molecular basis of plumage patterning, and the population genetics of melanism. Using primate brain evolution we have developed new quantitative methods to link gene to phenotype evolution over phylogenies, discovering genes underlying brain expansion in the process, and are planning to extend this analysis to a genomic scale.

Current research topics include:

  • Genetics and evolution of coloration in birds
  • Co-evolution of coloration and colour vision in vertebrates
  • Primate colour vision

Key Publications 

Rodriguez, A., Mundy N. I., Ibanez, R., Pröhl, H. (2020) Being red, blue and green: the genetic basis of coloration differences in the strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio). BMC Genomics 21:301. DOI:10.1186/s12864-020-6719-5

Twyman, H., Prager, M., *Mundy, N. I. and S. Andersson (2018) Expression of a carotenoid-modifying gene and the evolution of red coloration in ploceids. Mol. Ecol. 27, 449-458. DOI: 10.1111/mec.14451

Twyman, H., Prager, M., Mundy, N. I. and S. Andersson (2018) Expression of a carotenoid-modifying gene and the evolution of red coloration in ploceids. Mol. Ecol. (in press).

Janssen, K. and N. I. Mundy (2017) The genetic basis and enigmatic origin of melanic plumage polymorphism in pomarine skuas (Stercorarius pomarinus). Proc. Roy Soc B. 284, 20171735. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2017.1735

Mundy, N. I., Stapley, J., Bennison, C., Tucker, R., Twyman, H., Kim, K-W., Burke, T. A., Birkhead, T. R., Andersson, S., and J. Slate (2016) Red carotenoid coloration in the zebra finch is controlled by a cytochrome P450 gene cluster.Current Biology 26, 1435-1440. DOI: 10.106/j.cub.2016.04.047   

Corso, J., Bowler, M., Heymann, E. W., Roos, C., and  N. I. Mundy (2016) Highly polymorphic colour vision in a New World monkey with red facial skin, the bald uakari (Cacajao calvus) Proc. Roy Soc. B. 283, 20160067.  

Mundy, N. I., Badcock, N., Hart, T., Scribner, K., Janssen, K. and N. J. Nadeau (2004) Conserved genetic basis of a quantitative plumage trait involved in mate choice. Science 303, 1870-1873.

Full list of publications

Contact Details

Group Leader

Dr Nicholas Mundy

Department of Zoology
University of Cambridge
Downing St

01223  (3)36657

Group Members