How Feathers Get Their Patterns

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Science  03 May 2002:
Vol. 296, Issue 5569, pp. 807
DOI: 10.1126/science.296.5569.807a

The huge variety of color and pattern within the plumage of birds is the result of differential pigmentation both between and within individual feathers. The physiology and developmental anatomy of the pigmentation process itself is quite well understood, but the search for a set of general rules governing the actual pigmentation patterns within feathers has not been fruitful: The structural development of the feather has proved complex enough. By applying reaction diffusion equations to the production of within-feather patterns, Prum and Williamson have taken a step toward a general theory of pattern development. The model successfully simulates a wide variety of the within-feather patterns found in nature—bars, chevrons, concentric circles, spots, etc.—and generates testable predictions about their evolution and the biochemistry of their development.—AMS

Proc. R. Soc. London Ser. B269, 781 (2002).

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