Date: November 16, 2015
Source: University of Sheffield
Whether you're territorial, a girlfriend stealer, or a cross dresser -- when it comes to finding a partner, scientists have discovered that for some birds it's all in the genes.
Individual animals usually exhibit flexibility in their behaviour, but some behaviours are genetically determined.
Using genome sequencing, researchers from the University of Sheffield have now identified the genes that determine the striking mating behaviour of the males of a wading bird known as the ruff.
The ruff has a 'lek' mating system, which means males of the species gather together and invest all of their energy into attracting females to mate with them, and none into parental care.
Within this specific mating system three distinct breeding behaviour types are easily identifiable.
• Territorial breeding males have spectacular plumes around their neck (which is why these birds are called ruffs) and head, and vary enormously in colouration so that each male is distinguishable.
• Nonterritorial so-called 'satellite' males, which are distinguishable by their white feathers, concentrate on stealing mates from the territorial displaying males.
• A third type of male, which is thought of as a 'cross-dresser', mimics females. They are able to hide from other males in the lek, so avoiding territorial aggression, and succeed by effectively stealing mates from the resident males.
The new study, by an international team including researchers from the University of Sheffield, Simon Fraser University (Canada), and the University of Edinburgh, published in Nature Genetics, shows that the three distinct breeding behaviour types are encoded by a 'supergene' -- a section of a chromosome containing a hundred or more genes.