Spiny mice modulate eumelanin to pheomelanin ratio to achieve cryptic coloration in "Evolution Canyon," Israel

Natarajan Singaravelan, Tomas Pavlicek, Alex Beharav, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Shosuke Ito, Eviatar Nevo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Coat coloration in mammals is an explicit adaptation through natural selection. Camouflaging with the environment is the foremost evolutionary drive in explaining overall coloration. Decades of enquiries on this topic have been limited to repetitive coat color measurements to correlate the morphs with background/habitat blending. This led to an overwhelming endorsement of concealing coloration as a local phenotypic adaptation in animals, primarily rodents to evade predators. However, most such studies overlooked how rodents actually achieve such cryptic coloration. Cryptic coloration could be attained only through optimization between the yellow- to brown-colored "pheomelanin" and gray to black-colored "eumelanin" in the hairs. However, no study has explored this conjecture yet. "Evolution Canyon" (EC) in Israel is a natural microscale laboratory where the relationship between organism and environment can be explored. EC is comprised of an "African" slope (AS), which exhibits a yellow-brownish background habitat, and a "European" slope (ES), exhibiting a dark grayish habitat; both slopes harbor spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus). Here, we examine how hair melanin content of spiny mice living in the opposing slopes of EC evolves toward blending with their respective background habitat. Methodology/Principal Findings:We measured hair-melanin (both eumelanin and pheomelanin) contents of 30 spiny mice from the EC using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) that detects specific degradation products of eumelanin and pheomelanin. The melanin pattern of A. cahirinus approximates the background color of the slope on which they dwell. Pheomelanin is slightly (insignificantly) higher in individuals found on the AS to match the brownish background, whereas individuals of the ES had significantly greater eumelanin content to mimic the dark grayish background. This is further substantiated by a significantly higher eumelanin and pheomelanin ratio on the ES than on the AS. Conclusion/Significance: It appears that rodents adaptively modulate eumelanin and pheomelanin contents to achieve cryptic coloration in contrasting habitats even at a microscale.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8708
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
StatePublished - 14 Jan 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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