A hierarchical model of plumage: Morphology, development, and evolution


  • Richard O. Prum,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, and Natural History Museum, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045–2454
    • Natural History Museum, Dyche Hall, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas 66045-2454
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  • Jan Dyck

    1. Institute of Population Biology, Universitetsparken 15, DK–2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
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Plumage is a complex component of the avian phenotype. The plumage of an individual is composed of numerous hierarchically arranged developmental and morphological modules. We present a hierarchical model of plumage that provides an intellectual framework for understanding the development and evolution of feathers. Independence, covariation, and interaction among plumage modules create numerous opportunities for developmental and evolutionary diversification of feather complexity and function. The hierarchical relationships among plumage modules are characterized by both top-down and bottom-up effects in which properties of modules at one level of the hierarchy determine or influence the properties of modules at lower or higher levels of the hierarchy. Plumage metamodules are created by covariation or interaction among modules at different levels of the hierarchy. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 298B: 73–90, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.