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Department of Zoology


Our main current areas of research are 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 in birds 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.



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