Frequency-dependent physiological trade-offs between competing colour morphs.
ABSTRACT: Evolutionary theory suggests that alternative colour morphs (i.e. genetically controlled phenotypes) may derive similar fitness under frequency-dependent selection. Here we experimentally demonstrate opposing effects of frequency-dependent social environments on plasma hormone levels (testosterone and corticosterone) and immune function between red- and black-headed male morphs of the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae). Red-headed males are highly sensitive to changes in the social environment, especially towards the relative density of their own aggressive morph, exhibiting high stress responses and immunosuppression in socially competitive environments. In contrast, the non-aggressive black-headed males follow a more passive strategy that appears to buffer them against social stresses. The differential effect of hormones on aggressive behaviour and immune performance reinforces the contrasting behavioural strategies employed by these colour morphs, and highlights the importance of the social environment in determining the individual basis of behavioural and physiological responses.
Project description:Colour polymorphism is a widespread phenomenon and often encompasses different behavioural traits and strategies. More recently, it has been shown that morphs can also signal consistent individual differences (personality). An example are Gouldian finches that show discrete head colour morphs in the same population with red-headed birds being more aggressive but less risk-taking and explorative than black-headed birds in the lab. The current study aimed to investigate the link between head colour and behavioural traits in a naturally risky situation in the wild by recording the order of descent at waterholes in relation to hypotheses considering conspicuousness, dominance relationships and experience. Other bird species at the waterholes were also included in the study. Adult Gouldian finches generally preceded juveniles and among the adults the least conspicuous black-headed females descended first to the waterhole. Overall, females descended before the males though this pattern disappeared later in the season likely due to family groups breaking up and releasing males from attending to the juveniles. Finally, Gouldian finches almost always followed other species, particularly Long-tailed finches, to the ground rather than taking the lead. A two-level process of decision-making seems to explain the responses best: on the first level, experience separates adults from juveniles with adults preceding juveniles and on the second level, conspicuousness acts as a factor among the adults with the least conspicuous category taking the lead. Future studies should directly test the link between head colour and personality in the wild, look more into seasonal effects and investigate whether Gouldian finches use Long-tailed finches as an indicator of safety.
Project description:Discrete colour morphs coexisting within a single population are common in nature. In a broad range of organisms, sympatric colour morphs often display major differences in other traits, including morphology, physiology or behaviour. Despite the repeated occurrence of this phenomenon, our understanding of the genetics that underlie multi-trait differences and the factors that promote the long-term maintenance of phenotypic variability within a freely interbreeding population are incomplete. Here, we investigated the genetic basis of red and black head colour in the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), a classic polymorphic system in which naturally occurring colour morphs also display differences in aggressivity and reproductive success. We show that the candidate locus is a small (approx. 70 kb) non-coding region mapping to the Z chromosome near the Follistatin (FST) gene. Unlike recent findings in other systems where phenotypic morphs are explained by large inversions containing hundreds of genes (so-called supergenes), we did not identify any structural rearrangements between the two haplotypes using linked-read sequencing technology. Nucleotide divergence between the red and black alleles was high when compared to the remainder of the Z chromosome, consistent with their maintenance as balanced polymorphisms over several million years. Our results illustrate how pleiotropic phenotypes can arise from simple genetic variation, probably regulatory in nature.
Project description:Colour polymorphism is known to facilitate speciation but the genetic basis of animal pigmentation and how colour polymorphisms contribute to speciation is poorly understood. Restricted recombination may promote linkage disequilibrium between the colour locus and incompatibility genes. Genomic rearrangement and the position of relevant loci within a chromosome are important factors that influence the frequency of recombination. Therefore, it is important to know the position of the colour locus, gene order and recombination landscape of the chromosome to understand the mechanism that generates incompatibilities between morphs. Recent studies showed remarkable pre- and postzygotic incompatibilities between sympatric colour morphs of the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), in which head feather colour is genetically determined by a single sex-linked locus, Red. We constructed a genetic map for the Z chromosome of the Gouldian finch (male-specific map distance=131?cM), using 618 captive-bred birds and 34 microsatellite markers, to investigate the extent of inter- and intraspecific genomic rearrangements and variation in recombination rate within the Z chromosome. We refined the location of the Red locus to a ~7.2-cM interval in a region with a moderate recombination rate but outside the least-recombining, putative centromeric region. There was no evidence of chromosome-wide genomic rearrangements between the chromosomes carrying the red or black alleles with the current marker resolution. This work will contribute to identifying the causal gene, which will in turn enable alternative explanations for the association between incompatibility and colouration, such as fine-scale linkage disequilibrium, genomic rearrangements and pleiotropy, to be tested.
Project description:Colour polymorphisms play a key role in sexual selection and speciation, yet the mechanisms that generate and maintain them are not fully understood. Here, we use genomic and transcriptomic tools to identify the precise genetic architecture and evolutionary history of a sex-linked colour polymorphism in the Gouldian finch Erythrura gouldiae that is also accompanied by remarkable differences in behaviour and physiology. We find that differences in colour are associated with an ~72-kbp region of the Z chromosome in a putative regulatory region for follistatin, an antagonist of the TGF-? superfamily genes. The region is highly differentiated between morphs, unlike the rest of the genome, yet we find no evidence that an inversion is involved in maintaining the distinct haplotypes. Coalescent simulations confirm that there is elevated nucleotide diversity and an excess of intermediate frequency alleles at this locus. We conclude that this pleiotropic colour polymorphism is most probably maintained by balancing selection.
Project description:The hawk-dove game famously introduced strategic game theory thinking into biology and forms the basis of arguments for limited aggression in animal populations. However, aggressive 'hawks' and peaceful 'doves', with strategies inherited in a discrete manner, have never been documented in a real animal population. Thus, the applicability of game-theoretic arguments to real populations might be contested. Here, we show that the head-colour polymorphism of red and black Gouldian finches (Erythrura gouldiae) provides a real-life example. The aggressive red morph is behaviourally dominant and successfully invades black populations, but when red 'hawks' become too common, their fitness is severely compromised (via decreased parental ability). We also investigate the effects of real-life deviations, particularly sexual reproduction, from the simple original game, which assumed asexual reproduction. A protected polymorphism requires mate choice to be sufficiently assortative. Assortative mating is adaptive for individuals because of genetic incompatibilities affecting hybrid offspring fitness, but by allowing red 'hawks' to persist, it also leads to significantly reduced population sizes. Because reductions in male contributions to parental care are generally known to lead to lower population productivity in birds, we expect zero-sum competition to often have wide ranging population consequences.
Project description:Assessment of genetic diversity and connectivity between regions can inform conservation managers about risk of inbreeding, potential for adaptation and where population boundaries lie. The Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) is a threatened species in northern Australia, occupying the savannah woodlands of the biogeographically complex monsoon tropics. We present the most comprehensive population genetic analysis of diversity and structure the Gouldian finch using 16 microsatellite markers, mitochondrial control region and 3,389 SNPs from genotyping-by-sequencing. Mitochondrial diversity is compared across three related, co-distributed finches with different conservation threat-statuses. There was no evidence of genetic differentiation across the western part of the range in any of the molecular markers, and haplotype diversity but not richness was lower than a common co-distributed species. Individuals within the panmictic population in the west may be highly dispersive within this wide area, and we urge caution when interpreting anecdotal observations of changes to the distribution and/or flock sizes of Gouldian finch populations as evidence of overall changes to the population size of this species.
Project description:Severe tracheitis and bronchitis were identified in two fatal cases of respiratory disease affecting a flock of Gouldian finches (Erythrura [Chloebia] gouldiae). Intranuclear inclusion bodies in epithelial cells of the upper respiratory tract were identified in samples from two birds. Electron microscopic examination showed that the inclusions consisted of viral particles consistent in appearance with Herpesviridae. Degenerate PCR primers targeting a conserved region of the herpesviral-DNA-dependent DNA polymerase were used to amplify a region of DNA isolated from tissues with lesions from each animal. Nucleotide sequencing of the PCR products yielded identical viral sequences that were distinct from known herpesviruses. An analysis of sequence homology indicated that these gene segments appear to belong to a member of the subfamily Alphaherpesvirinae.
Project description:Birds choose mates on the basis of colour, song and body size, but little is known about the mechanisms underlying these mating decisions. Reports that zebra finches prefer to view mates with the right eye during courtship, and that immediate early gene expression associated with courtship behaviour is lateralized in their left hemisphere suggest that visual mate choice itself may be lateralized. To test this hypothesis, we used the Gouldian finch, a polymorphic species in which individuals exhibit strong, adaptive visual preferences for mates of their own head colour. Black males were tested in a mate-choice apparatus under three eye conditions: left-monocular, right-monocular and binocular. We found that black male preference for black females is so strongly lateralized in the right-eye/left-hemisphere system that if the right eye is unavailable, males are unable to respond preferentially, not only to males and females of the same morph, but also to the strikingly dissimilar female morphs. Courtship singing is consistent with these lateralized mate preferences; more black males sing to black females when using their right eye than when using their left. Beauty, therefore, is in the right eye of the beholder for these songbirds, providing, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of visual mate choice lateralization.
Project description:Regenerating feathers of the Gouldian finches were collected from heads of moulting individuals from an Australian captive population. Affymetrix microarrays were used to examine gene expression differences between black and red morphs. Overall design: Gene expression in regenerating feathers of black (n=3) and red (n=3) individuals were measured on Affymetrix microarrays and compared.