skip to main content

Title: Genetic and ecological drivers of molt in a migratory bird

The ability of animals to sync the timing and location of molting (the replacement of hair, skin, exoskeletons or feathers) with peaks in resource availability has important implications for their ecology and evolution. In migratory birds, the timing and location of pre-migratory feather molting, a period when feathers are shed and replaced with newer, more aerodynamic feathers, can vary within and between species. While hypotheses to explain the evolution of intraspecific variation in the timing and location of molt have been proposed, little is known about the genetic basis of this trait or the specific environmental drivers that may result in natural selection for distinct molting phenotypes. Here we take advantage of intraspecific variation in the timing and location of molt in the iconic songbird, the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) to investigate the genetic and ecological drivers of distinct molting phenotypes. Specifically, we use genome-wide genetic sequencing in combination with stable isotope analysis to determine population genetic structure and molting phenotype across thirteen breeding sites. We then use genome-wide association analysis (GWAS) to identify a suite of genes associated with molting and pair this with gene-environment association analysis (GEA) to investigate potential environmental drivers of genetic variation in this more » trait. Associations between genetic variation in molt-linked genes and the environment are further tested via targeted SNP genotyping in 25 additional breeding populations across the range. Together, our integrative analysis suggests that molting is in part regulated by genes linked to feather development and structure (GLI2andCSPG4) and that genetic variation in these genes is associated with seasonal variation in precipitation and aridity. Overall, this work provides important insights into the genetic basis and potential selective forces behind phenotypic variation in what is arguably one of the most important fitness-linked traits in a migratory bird.

« less
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this

    Populations of Vaux’s Swift (Chaetura vauxi), like those of many aerial insectivores, are rapidly declining. Determining when and where populations are limited across the annual cycle is important for their conservation. Establishing the linkages between wintering and breeding sites and the strength of the connections between them is a necessary first step. In this study, we analyzed 3 stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) from feathers collected during spring migration from Vaux’s Swifts that perished during a stopover on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. We previously analyzed claw tissue (grown during winter) from the same individuals, revealing that the swifts likely wintered in 2 or 3 locations/habitats. Here, we used stable isotope analysis of flight feathers presumed to have been grown on, or near, the breeding grounds to determine the likely previous breeding locations and presumed destinations for the swifts. Stable isotope values (δ13C, δ15N, δ2H) showed no meaningful variation between age classes, sexes, or with body size. Surprisingly, ~26% of the birds sampled had feather isotope values that were not consistent with growth on their breeding grounds. For the remaining birds, assigned breeding origins appeared most consistent with molt origins on Vancouver Island. Overall, migratory connectivity of this populationmore »was relatively weak (rM = 0.07). However, the degree of connectivity depended on how many winter clusters were analyzed; the 2-cluster solution suggested no significant connectivity, but the 3-cluster solution suggested weak connectivity. It is still unclear whether low migratory connectivity observed for Vaux’s Swift and other aerial insectivores may make their populations more or less vulnerable to habitat loss; therefore, further efforts should be directed to assessing whether aerial insectivores may be habitat limited throughout the annual cycle.

    « less
  2. Abstract

    Classical genetic studies have identified many cases of pleiotropy where mutations in individual genes alter many different phenotypes. Quantitative genetic studies of natural genetic variants frequently examine one or a few traits, limiting their potential to identify pleiotropic effects of natural genetic variants. Widely adopted community association panels have been employed by plant genetics communities to study the genetic basis of naturally occurring phenotypic variation in a wide range of traits. High-density genetic marker data—18M markers—from 2 partially overlapping maize association panels comprising 1,014 unique genotypes grown in field trials across at least 7 US states and scored for 162 distinct trait data sets enabled the identification of of 2,154 suggestive marker-trait associations and 697 confident associations in the maize genome using a resampling-based genome-wide association strategy. The precision of individual marker-trait associations was estimated to be 3 genes based on a reference set of genes with known phenotypes. Examples were observed of both genetic loci associated with variation in diverse traits (e.g., above-ground and below-ground traits), as well as individual loci associated with the same or similar traits across diverse environments. Many significant signals are located near genes whose functions were previously entirely unknown or estimated purely viamore »functional data on homologs. This study demonstrates the potential of mining community association panel data using new higher-density genetic marker sets combined with resampling-based genome-wide association tests to develop testable hypotheses about gene functions, identify potential pleiotropic effects of natural genetic variants, and study genotype-by-environment interaction.

    « less
  3. Wilson, Daniel ; Parkhill, Julian (Ed.)
    ABSTRACT A goal of modern biology is to develop the genotype-phenotype (G→P) map, a predictive understanding of how genomic information generates trait variation that forms the basis of both natural and managed communities. As microbiome research advances, however, it has become clear that many of these traits are symbiotic extended phenotypes , being governed by genetic variation encoded not only by the host’s own genome, but also by the genomes of myriad cryptic symbionts. Building a reliable G→P map therefore requires accounting for the multitude of interacting genes and even genomes involved in symbiosis. Here, we use naturally occurring genetic variation in 191 strains of the model microbial symbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti paired with two genotypes of the host Medicago truncatula in four genome-wide association studies (GWAS) to determine the genomic architecture of a key symbiotic extended phenotype— partner quality , or the fitness benefit conferred to a host by a particular symbiont genotype, within and across environmental contexts and host genotypes. We define three novel categories of loci in rhizobium genomes that must be accounted for if we want to build a reliable G→P map of partner quality; namely, (i) loci whose identities depend on the environment, (ii) those thatmore »depend on the host genotype with which rhizobia interact, and (iii) universal loci that are likely important in all or most environments. IMPORTANCE Given the rapid rise of research on how microbiomes can be harnessed to improve host health, understanding the contribution of microbial genetic variation to host phenotypic variation is pressing, and will better enable us to predict the evolution of (and select more precisely for) symbiotic extended phenotypes that impact host health. We uncover extensive context-dependency in both the identity and functions of symbiont loci that control host growth, which makes predicting the genes and pathways important for determining symbiotic outcomes under different conditions more challenging. Despite this context-dependency, we also resolve a core set of universal loci that are likely important in all or most environments, and thus, serve as excellent targets both for genetic engineering and future coevolutionary studies of symbiosis.« less
  4. Abstract Background

    Genome wide association (GWA) studies demonstrate linkages between genetic variants and traits of interest. Here, we tested associations between single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in rice (Oryza sativa) and two root hair traits, root hair length (RHL) and root hair density (RHD). Root hairs are outgrowths of single cells on the root epidermis that aid in nutrient and water acquisition and have also served as a model system to study cell differentiation and tip growth. Using lines from the Rice Diversity Panel-1, we explored the diversity of root hair length and density across four subpopulations of rice (aus,indica,temperate japonica, andtropical japonica). GWA analysis was completed using the high-density rice array (HDRA) and the rice reference panel (RICE-RP) SNP sets.


    We identified 18 genomic regions related to root hair traits, 14 of which related to RHD and four to RHL. No genomic regions were significantly associated with both traits. Two regions overlapped with previously identified quantitative trait loci (QTL) associated with root hair density in rice. We identified candidate genes in these regions and present those with previously published expression data relevant to root hair development. We re-phenotyped a subset of lines with extreme RHD phenotypes and found that the variationmore »in RHD was due to differences in cell differentiation, not cell size, indicating genes in an associated genomic region may influence root hair cell fate. The candidate genes that we identified showed little overlap with previously characterized genes in rice andArabidopsis.


    Root hair length and density are quantitative traits with complex and independent genetic control in rice. The genomic regions described here could be used as the basis for QTL development and further analysis of the genetic control of root hair length and density. We present a list of candidate genes involved in root hair formation and growth in rice, many of which have not been previously identified as having a relation to root hair growth. Since little is known about root hair growth in grasses, these provide a guide for further research and crop improvement.

    « less
  5. Sea Island cotton ( Gossypium barbadense ) is world-renowned for its superior natural fiber. Although fiber strength is one of the most important fiber quality traits, genes contributing to fiber strength are poorly understood. Production of sea island cotton also is inextricably linked to improving its relatively low yield, thus enhancing the importance of joint improvement of both fiber quality and yield. We used genomic variation to uncover the genetic evidence of trait improvement resulting from pedigree breeding of Sea Island cotton. This pedigree was aimed at improving fiber strength and yielded an elite cultivar, XH35. Using a combination of genome-wide association study (GWAS) and selection screens, we detected 82 putative fiber-strength-related genes. Expression analysis confirmed a calmodulin-like gene, GbCML7 , which enhanced fiber strength in a specific haplotype. This gene is a major-effect gene, which interacts with a minor-effect gene, GbTUA3 , facilitating the enhancement of fiber strength in a synergistic fashion. Moreover, GbCML7 participates in the cooperative improvement of fiber strength, fiber length, and fiber uniformity, though a slight compromise exists between the first two of these traits and the latter. Importantly, GbCML7 is shown to boost yield in some backgrounds by increasing multiple yield components to varyingmore »degrees, especially boll number. Our work provides valuable genomic evidence and a key genetic factor for the joint improvement of fiber quality and yield in Sea Island cotton.« less