Thermal consequences of colour and near-infrared reflectance
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The importance of colour for temperature regulation in animals remains controversial. Colour can affect an animal’s temperature because all else being equal, dark surfaces absorb more solar energy than do light surfaces, and that the energy is converted into heat. However, in reality, the relationship between colour and thermoregulation is complex and varied because it depends on environmental conditions, and the physical properties, behaviour and physiology of the animal. Furthermore, the thermal effects of colour depend as much on absorbtance of near-infrared ((NIR), 700–2500 nm) as visible (300–700 nm) wavelengths of direct sunlight; yet the NIR is very rarely considered or measured. The few available data on NIR reflectance in animals indicate that the visible reflectance is often a poor predictor of NIR reflectance. Adaptive variation in animal coloration (visible reflectance) reflects a compromise between multiple competing functions such as camouflage, signalling and thermoregulation. By contrast, adaptive variation in NIR reflectance should primarily reflect thermoregulatory requirements because animal visual systems are generally insensitive to NIR wavelengths. Here, we assess evidence and identify key research questions regarding the thermoregulatory function of animal coloration, and specifically consider evidence for adaptive variation in NIR reflectance. This article is part of the themed issue ‘Animal coloration: production, perception, function and application’.