Application of the elliptic Fourier functions to the description of avian egg shape
Egg shape is difficult to quantify due to the lack of an exact formula to describe its geometry. Here I described a simple algorithm to characterize and compare egg shapes using Fourier functions. These functions can delineate any closed contour and had been previously applied to describe several biological objects. I described, step by step, the process of data acquisition, processing and the use of the SHAPE software to extract function coefficients in a study case. I compared egg shapes in three birds’ species representing different reproductive strategies: Cuban Parakeet (Aratinga euops), Royal Tern (Thalasseus maximus) and Cuban Blackbird (Dives atroviolaceus). Using 73 digital pictures of eggs kept in Cuban scientific collections, I calculated Fourier descriptors with 4, 6, 8, 16 and 20 harmonics. Descriptors were reduced by a Principal Component Analysis and the scores of the eigenvalues that account for 90% of variance were used in a Lineal Discriminant Function to analyze the possibility to differentiate eggs according to its shapes. Using four harmonics, the first five component accounted for 97% of shape variances; more harmonics diluted the variance increasing to eight the number of components needed to explain most of the variation. Convex polygons in the discriminant space showed a clear separation between species, allowing trustful discrimination (classification errors between 7-15%). Misclassifications were related to specific egg shape variability between species. In the study case, A. euops eggs were perfectly classified, but for the other species, errors ranged from 5 to 29% of misclassifications, in relation to the numbers or harmonics and components used. The proposed algorithm, despite its apparent mathematical complexity, showed many advantages to describe eggs shape allowing a deeper understanding of factors related to this variable.
Keywords: birds egg shape, Fourier descriptors, EFD, SHAPE software