Crows like to select mates that look alike. In a large-scale genomic study, published in Science today, a team of researchers led by Uppsala University found that this behaviour might be rooted in their genetic make-up, revealing a likely common evolutionary path that allows for separating populations into novel species.
What is the driving engine behind biodiversity? One and a half centuries years ago, Charles Darwin recognized that species are subject to evolutionary change. Now, we know that all aspects defining an organism are encoded in its genome. Yet, how new species emerge from slight genetic changes remains unanswered. Crows, for example, are all black or grey coated, and they exhibit a strong tendency to select partners that look alike.
The researchers identified an avian system - crows and ravens of the genus Corvus - that they used as an evolutionary model to decipher the genetic underpinnings of speciation. Central to this system is the independent recurrence of a pied colour-pattern in several species of the genus that stands in contrasts to the predominant all-black plumage in the clade.
In this study the researchers focused on the young end of the evolutionary spectrum investigating the genetic architecture of divergence between all black carrion crows (Corvus [corone] corone) and grey coated hooded crows (C. [c.] cornix) that still hybridize along a hybrid zone stretching across Europe and Asia.
Hybrid zones are natural evolutionary experiments where early processes of speciation can be studied. Where black and grey morphs come into contact, they form a well-known hybrid zone that is astonishingly narrow (15-150 km) and apart from minor shifts has been stably maintained over at least 100 years.
Previous small scale genetic analysis showed hardly any genetic differentiation between carrion and hooded crow across the entire species range that would exceed the level of differentiation between populations of the same taxon, leave alone justify species status.
In this study the researchers set out to find the decisive differences that stabilize the hybrid zone and eventually keep carrion and hooded crows apart using a plethora of approaches: they generated a genome backbone, performed population genetic analyses of whole genome data of many individuals, raised young crows to measure gene expression under controlled conditions and conducted functional histological characterization of growing feather follicles to have a closer look at melanocytes, the cells where color is made.
Consistent with the hypothesis of color-mediated isolation, we found that gene expression differed almost exclusively in growing feather follicles at the stage where color is deposited into the feathers. Genes involved in coloration were constitutively expressed higher in black crow than in their grey counterparts.
Screens of the more than 1 billion base pairs in the genome revealed very little difference between the two. Only 82 base pairs were diagnosticly different and 81 of them were concentrated in one genomic region coding for genes involved in coloration and visual perception.
- This finding suggests the exciting possibility that a mate-choice relevant trait, like coloration, might be genetically coupled to its perception which could be common one evolutionary path allowing for separating populations into novel species. Such a mechanism could be common for many other species with visually oriented mate choice, says Jochen Wolf, one of the lead authors of the study.
For more information, please contact
Jochen Wolf, tel: +46 18-471 4120, e-mail: Jochen.Wolf@ebc.uu.se
"The genomic landscape underlying phenotypic integrity in the face of gene flow in crows" is scheduled for publication in the journal Science on 20 June 2014.
Jochen Wolf | Eurek Alert!
NYSCF researchers develop novel bioengineering technique for personalized bone grafts
18.07.2018 | New York Stem Cell Foundation
Pollen taxi for bacteria
18.07.2018 | Technische Universität München
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
18.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
18.07.2018 | Life Sciences
18.07.2018 | Health and Medicine