I am an evolutionary biologist with a passion for animal forms and colors. My research focuses on the relationship between the structure and function of phenotypic traits. I follow an integrative approach, using optics, computer simulations, field biology and phylogenetic comparative methods to investigate how animal colors (in particular structural) are produced, how they change over time and the functions they serve.
I also have a deep interest in the role of the environment on shaping morphological and functional diversity in vertebrate eggs, which I investigate in birds and reptiles.
Iridescence, melanin, feather development, comparative analyses, paleocolor, nesting ecology, egg coloration, eggshell structure.
The main question that drives my research is why do we see such remarkable diversity in animal forms and color. In particular I focus on the evolution of animal coloration and vertebrate eggs.
One central aspect of my research is that I focus on nanostructures. So what are nanostructures? Looking closely at an iridescent feather of a hummingbird one would notice the different branches that compose the feather, and inside them, is a complex network of protein and air and also numerous dark organelles named melanosomes, which containing melanin (a very important pigment for life). Both of these components are nanostructures, which can have diverse configurations resulting in very interesting functions including the production of some of the most brilliant colors in nature.
A selection of the topics I am working on currently.
Diversity of egg forms and nesting ecology in reptiles
Evolution and function of animal coloration
D’Alba L., Goldenberg J., Nallapaneni A., Parkinson D., Zhu C., Vanthournout B. and Shawkey M.D. 2021. Evolution of eggshell structure in relation to nesting ecology in non-avian reptiles. Journal of Morphology. 282 (7):1066-1079. https://doi.org/10.1002/jmor.21347
D’Alba L. Meadows M. Maia M. Yeo J.S., Manceau M. and Shawkey M.D. Morphogenesis of iridescent feathers in Anna’s hummingbird Calypte anna. Integrative and Comparative Biology. 61(4):1502–1510. https://doi.org/10.1093/icb/icab123
Nicolai M., Shawkey, M.D., Porchetta S. and D’Alba, L. 2020. Exposure to irradiance as a predictor of repeated evolution of concealed black skin color in birds. Nature Communications 11:2414. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-15894-6
D’Alba, L., Wang B. Vanthournout B. Shawkey M.D. 2019. The golden age of arthropods: ancient mechanisms of color production on body scales. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 16(159), p.20190366
D’Alba L., M.D. Shawkey. 2018. Melanosomes: Biogenesis, properties, and evolution of an ancient organelle. Physiological Reviews (invited review): 99(1):1-19
D’Alba L., Maia R., Shawkey M.D. 2016 Evolution of avian eggshell structure in relation to nesting ecology. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 283(1836): p.20160687. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2016.0687
Clarke J.A., Ksepka D., Salas-Gismondi R., Altamirano A.J., Shawkey M.D., D’Alba L., Vinther J., DeVries J. Baby P. 2010. Fossil evidence for evolution of the shape and color of penguin feathers. Science 330: 954-957
Li, Q., J. A. Clarke, K. Gao, C. Zhou, Q. Meng, D. Li, L. D’Alba and M.D. Shawkey. 2014 Melanosome evolution indicates a key physiological shift within feathered dinosaurs. Nature. 507(7492): 350-353. doi:10.1038/nature12973
For a full list of my publications see my Google profile
Naturalis aims to be a breeding ground for international scientific talent. Therefore, PhD's have a special position in our organisation.
I teach the following topics at Ghent University:
Introduction to Biomimicry