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Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Ruff (Philomachus pugnax): a tale of mimicry and deception in the usual fight over a mate in the lek.

Published in November 2013, in the BMC Genetics journal, a team of researchers from Sheffield, Canada, and the US have outlined their search for a genetic component for female mimicry and other plumage changes in the Ruff (Philomachus pugnax).

Link to Journal
Genetic mapping of the female mimic morph locus in the ruff. 
BMC Genetics 2013 14:109

Three alternative male reproductive morphs are described : i)dark-plumed territorial ‘Independents’, (ii) white-plumed non-territorial ‘Satellites’, and (iii) small female-mimicking ‘Faeders’ that lack display plumage and behaviour and aggregate close to displaying males to ‘sneak’ copulations with females and interfere with copulation attempts by other males. The appearance is shown in the figure below:

Figure Legend: (a) Three permanent alternative male reproductive morphs of ruff (Philomachus pugnax) associated with territorial lekking behaviour and plumage colour. Pictured bottom left: territorial dark-plumed ‘Independent’; bottom middle: female mimic ‘Faeder’; bottom right: non-territorial white-plumed ‘Satellite’; top middle: female (photos by L.L.F and S.B.M). (b) On a captive lek, the independent and satellite males are displaying (right) with the faeder male near by (left) (photo by S.B.M).

Using 58 microsatellites, genetic markers of variable length amongst individuals in a population, the team analysed pedigree, phenotype, and genotype, for 381 individuals (64 families) from a captive group of Ruffs spanning fourteen breeding years. Although distinction between genetic loci for the faeder and satellite morphs could not be defined by these data, a comparison to the chicken and zebra-fish genetic maps indicated a strong association with the pigment-regulating gene Melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R).The authors conclude that this finding has supportive evidence from other bird species, such as the Tawny Owl (Silva AD, et al. Melanin-based colour polymorphism signals aggressive personality in nest and territory defence in the tawny owl (Strix aluco). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 2013, 67:1041–1052.)

Further fine mapping genetic studies can only but help in confirming these initial linkage findings to unravel this courtship and display behaviour and plumage colour variation.

Authors and Affiliations
Lindsay L Farrell1 2*, 
Terry Burke, Jon Slate 1
Susan B McRae 3
David B Lank 2

1: Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield,S10 2TN, UK. 
2: Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University,
Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada.
3: Department of Biology and Center for Biodiversity, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858-4353, USA.

[On a personal note Terry Burke was my first postgraduate Laboratory Supervisor whilst I spent a year studying molecular ecology techniques at Leicester University - thank you Terry.]

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