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John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


Anthocyanin pigments have become a model trait for evolutionary ecology as they often provide adaptive benefits for plants. Anthocyanins have been traditionally quantified biochemically or more recently using spectral reflectance. However, both methods require destructive sampling and can be labor intensive and challenging with small samples. Recent advances in digital photography and image processing make it the method of choice for measuring color in the wild. Here, we use digital images as a quick, noninvasive method to estimate relative anthocyanin concentrations in species exhibiting color variation. Using a consumer‐level digital camera and a free image processing toolbox, we extracted RGB values from digital images to generate color indices. We tested petals, stems, pedicels, and calyces of six species, which contain different types of anthocyanin pigments and exhibit different pigmentation patterns. Color indices were assessed by their correlation to biochemically determined anthocyanin concentrations. For comparison, we also calculated color indices from spectral reflectance and tested the correlation with anthocyanin concentration. Indices perform differently depending on the nature of the color variation. For both digital images and spectral reflectance, the most accurate estimates of anthocyanin concentration emerge from anthocyanin content‐chroma ratio, anthocyanin content‐chroma basic, and strength of green indices. Color indices derived from both digital images and spectral reflectance strongly correlate with biochemically determined anthocyanin concentration; however, the estimates from digital images performed better than spectral reflectance in terms of r2 and normalized root‐mean‐square error. This was particularly noticeable in a species with striped petals, but in the case of striped calyces, both methods showed a comparable relationship with anthocyanin concentration. Using digital images brings new opportunities to accurately quantify the anthocyanin concentrations in both floral and vegetative tissues. This method is efficient, completely noninvasive, applicable to both uniform and patterned color, and works with samples of any size.


© 2018 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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