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Content archived on 2024-05-29

Ecological genetics of the timing of reproduction in birds


Most organisms inhabit environments that vary in time and space, often showing dramatic seasonal variation. Consequently, organisms have evolved mechanisms that enable them to track the variation in their environment and exploit critical resources effectively.

The timing of reproduction in birds, which varies considerably within populations and is often under strong natural selection, is an excellent model for studying individual responses to the environment. Individual timing within years is dependent on a range of environmental factors in addition to having an additive genetic basis.

In vertebrates, an increasing amount is known about the molecular basis for variation in biological timing. For example, the Clock gene includes a variable poly-glutamine ('po ly-Q) repeat influencing behaviour and physiology. Recent work in birds and insects has demonstrated associations between Clock genotype and latitude, which match latitudinal variation in breeding time.

The aim of this study is to address the within-population fitness consequences of variation of clock genes in wild bird populations, with particular reference to the timing of reproduction.

The main hypothesis is that within populations, clock gene variation should be under stabilising selection, but that the form of selection will depend upon specific features of the environment, such that variation within populations is maintained by spatial and temporal heterogeneity.

The project thus matches detailed molecular genetic work with well-characterised ecologic al models, and the work has potential implications for our understanding of the maintenance of genetic variation in populations, local adaptation, and adjustment to changing environments.

The fellows profile and the hosts expertise complement each other very well, since they match molecular genetic and ecological approaches to variation in wild systems. Thus, this project is offering a high degree of interdisciplinary and international interaction.

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