Nuptial plumage coloration is critical in the mating choice of the crested ibis. This species has a characteristic nuptial plumage that develops from the application of a black sticky substance, secreted by a patch of skin in the throat and neck region. We aimed to identify the genes regulating its coloring, by comparing skin transcriptomes between ibises during the breeding and nonbreeding seasons. In breeding season skins, key eumelanin synthesis genes, TYR
, and TYRP1
were upregulated. Tyrosine metabolism, which is closely related to melanin synthesis, was also upregulated, as were transporter proteins belonging to multiple SLC
families, which might act during melanosome transportation to keratinocytes. These results indicate that eumelanin is likely an important component of the black substance. In addition, we observed upregulation in lipid metabolism in breeding season skins. We suggest that the lipids contribute to an oil base, which imbues the black substance with water insolubility and enhances its adhesion to feather surfaces. In nonbreeding season skins, we observed upregulation in cell adhesion molecules, which play critical roles in cell interactions. A number of molecules involved in innervation and angiogenesis were upregulated, indicating an ongoing expansion of nerves and blood vessels in sampled skins. Feather β keratin, a basic component of avian feather filament, was also upregulated. These results are consistent with feather regeneration in the black skin of nonbreeding season ibises. Our results provide the first molecular evidence indicating that eumelanin is the key component of ibis coloration.
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