AUGUST 28, 2019
by Gail Mccormick, Pennsylvania State University
A gene newly associated with the migratory patterns of golden-winged and blue-winged warblers could lend insight into the longstanding question of how birds migrate across such long distances.
A new study led by researchers at Penn State and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is the first to combine whole genome sequencing and migration tracking technology to pinpoint a single geneassociated with the complex suite of traits that determine migratory behavior. These findings may have important conservation implications for the declining populations of golden-winged warblers. The paper appears online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and describes the gene, which is associated with a neurological disorder in humans.
"The great migrations of the world have been inspiring people for hundreds of years," said David Toews, assistant professor of biology at Penn State and leader of the research team. "The migration of birds is particularly fascinating because small species primarily navigate alone, at night, and at high altitudes, so people do not always see it happening. They are in your backyard, and then they are gone."
Migration programming in birds is incredibly complex, encompassing a suite of neurological, physiological, and behavioral traits. Researchers have known for a few decades that there is a genetic component to migration. Recent studies in birds have identified large regions of the genome, encompassing hundreds of genes, associated with migration, but it has been more difficult to pinpoint the specific roles of any single gene.