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Male prowess of the ruff

The ruff is a wading bird and its claim to fame is that there are three distinct male morphs or forms during the breeding season. EU research has looked at the genetics behind the different reproductive strategies.
Male prowess of the ruff
Sexual dimorphism in the ruff goes further than appearance. There are three different male phenotypes that differ in morphology, plumage and behaviour. Stimulating Darwin's interest more than a century ago, the main male morph is the independent territorial, others form alliances with these territorial birds to get a mate. Lastly, there are males similar to females that mate in secret.

Although studied previously, the RUFF GENOMICS (Genomics of reproductive strategies in ruffs) project has produced a genome map to replace the inferior quality sequencing previously available. High quality genome maps were prepared using an ultra-high-throughput sequencing system as well as RNA samples for gene annotation.

Captive and wild type ruffs were then mapped for a genome wide association study and some 300 birds were used for linkage mapping. Both mapping approaches point to a single genomic region that is responsible for this male variation.

Interestingly, birds with the three alternative male mating strategies share an inversion where a whole chunk of chromosome breaks off and flips over so the gene sequence is reversed. The whole inversion is around 100 genes and there is around 80 % of difference between morphs. The inversion contains several genes linked to steroid synthesis, which could explain behaviour differences that affect aggression and appearance.

The RUFF GENOMICS project has demonstrated how cutting-edge genomic technologies can be used to examine the genomics behind complex behavioural phenotypes in any non-model organism. The knowledge base behind critical areas of the genome can be further expanded.

Related information


Ruff, morphs, reproductive strategies, mapping, inversion
Record Number: 183178 / Last updated on: 2016-08-16
Domain: Biology, Medicine