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Evolution of female-limited colour polymorphism through sex-specific genetic architecture in cuckoos

13 Oct 2023 - Cristiana Marques, BIOPOLIS, CIBIO-InBIO/UP | 14h45 | CIBIO’s Auditorium, Campus de Vairão
Evolution of female-limited colour polymorphism through sex-specific genetic architecture in cuckoos

The evolution of sex-specific traits has long been the subject of interest among evolutionary biologists. In birds, female-limited plumage color may result from conflicting selective pressures, in males and females, leading to intra-locus sexual conflict. The common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) is a prime example of female-limited color polymorphism, where adult females exhibit either rufous or grey plumage, while males are monochromatic grey. This species is well-known for its interspecific brood parasitism and morph prevalence seems to be under frequency-dependent selection by host recognition. Alternative plumage coloration may also function intraspecifically to reduce sexual harassment and intrasexual aggression caused by competition for critical resources. However, the genetic basis of this pivotal trait and the evolutionary mechanisms maintaining it remain obscured. Here, we identify the genomic region underlying the evolution of the rufous plumage coloration, in female cuckoos, and investigate the potential role of balancing selection in maintaining female-limited color polymorphism. We show that intra-locus sexual conflict may be resolved by ensuring sex-biased inheritance and suggest that balancing selection can increase a species’ adaptive potential. Taken together, the findings of this study shed light on the evolution of sex-specific polymorphisms and its potential for new avenues in the study of bird coloration.

Cristiana Marques is a BIODIV PhD student in EVOLGEN research group at BIOPOLIS/CIBIO-InBIO. Her main research interest sets on understanding the mechanisms leading to and shaping phenotypic diversity, with especial interest on behavioral phenotypes and coloration. During her MSc, she investigated the genetic mechanisms underlying plumage color variation in Gouldian finches, using transcriptomics. She is currently working with cutting-edge genomics tools to understand the evolutionary mechanisms generating color novelty in birds, both through natural and artificial selection.

[Host: Miguel Carneiro, Evolutionary Genetics and Genomics - EVOLGEN]
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