Emu Emu Society
Journal of BirdLife Australia

The historical frequency of head-colour morphs in the Gouldian Finch (Erythrura gouldiae)

Amanda J. Gilby A , Sarah R. Pryke A and Simon C. Griffith A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Brain, Behaviour and Evolution, Macquarie University, NSW 2109, Australia.

B Corresponding author. Email: simon.griffith@mq.edu.au

Emu 109(3) 222-229 https://doi.org/10.1071/MU09013
Submitted: 18 February 2009  Accepted: 22 May 2009   Published: 17 August 2009


The endangered Gouldian Finch (Erythura gouldiae) possesses a genetic colour polymorphism in the form of three genetically determined head-colours (yellow, black and red) that coexist in the same population. The spatial and temporal pattern of morph ratios within this species provides insight into the selective pressures acting on and maintaining the different forms. To investigate spatial and temporal patterns in the relative historical abundance of the different Gouldian Finch morphs, we surveyed museum collections around the world, identifying 614 wild-caught skins and obtaining accurate data on the morphs of 552 of these. The yellow morph was found at very low numbers (only 15 skins), consistent with its rarity in contemporary populations. Red- and black-morph individuals were found at relatively constant ratios across the geographical range over which they were sampled, and across the 140-year period during which these skins were collected, although this differed slightly for males and females (males: 62.6% black, 37.4% red; females: 79.1% black, 20.9% red). Spatial and temporal stability in the frequency of alternative morphs is extremely rare. These results suggest that the genetic architecture underlying the trait and selective pressures acting on the separate morphs of the Gouldian Finch differ between the sexes, but are fairly constant across highly variable environmental conditions.


We thank all of the collection curators who kindly provided the data on which the study is based, and Don Franklin for allowing us to reproduce his raw data in Fig. 4. We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a previous version of the manuscript. S. R. Pryke and S. C. Griffith are supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC), and A. J. Gilby is supported by a Macquarie University Research Excellence Scholarship.


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