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An avian model for understanding adaptations and modulatory drivers of avian migration

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MIGRADAPT (An avian model for understanding adaptations and modulatory drivers of avian migration)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-12-31

Migratory birds have evolved exceptional adaptations: they can invert their circadian rhythms turning from diurnal to nocturnal, undergo rapid changes in body mass and fat stores, and cope with repeated cycles of fasting and feeding as they alternate between sustained migratory flights and refuelling stopovers. The genomics and physiological mechanisms underlying such remarkable adaptations remain poorly understood.

The main key objectives of this post-doctoral project were to determine:
(i) The physiological mechanisms associated with the activation and deactivation of the migratory state;
(ii) Which genes modulate such transition via changes in their expression within key target organ tissues;
(iii) Whether endocrine signals trigger the switching of the migratory state.

This post-doctoral project is highly inter-disciplinary since it spans from eco-physiology to biomedical fields of research. Since several hormones involved in energy metabolism are shared between birds and mammals, studying the factors driving rapid body mass changes in migratory birds can provide important insights for both poultry science/industry (meat production and animal welfare) and also for biomedicine (nutrition). The project is also highly multi-disciplinary because it integrates tools from a wide range of disciplines (transcriptomics, neuroendocrinology, physiology, nutrition, behaviour, and avian biology) to identify molecular and physiological components regulating the migratory state.
Overview of the results:
For achieving each research objective a respective set of Work Packages (WPs) was planned and completed (WP1-WP4). The statistical analyses of the collected data are ongoing for producing peer-reviewed publications as planned.
One manuscript resulting from the work covered in WP2 has already been published (see below for full details).

Exploitation and dissemination:
As follow, the full list of the scientific dissemination activities:
Manuscripts published or under review:
- Smith, S., Fusani, L., Boglarka, B., Sanchez-Donoso, I., and Marasco, V. (2018). Lack of introgression of Japanese quail in a captive population of Common quail. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 64:51;
- Marasco, V., Boner, W., Heidinger, B., Griffths, K. and Monaghan, P. (2018). Environmental conditions shape the temporal pattern of investment in reproduction and survival. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 285 (1870): 20172442;
- Marasco V., Stier A., Boner W., Griffiths K., Heidinger B., and Monaghan P. (2017). Environmental conditions can modulate the links among oxidative stress, age, and longevity. Mechanisms of Aging and Development, 164: 100-107; 10.1016/j.mad.2017.04.012.
- Griffith S, …, Marasco V., …et al. (2017). Variation in reproductive success across captive populations: methodological differences, potential biases and opportunities. Ethology, 123 (1): 1-29; 10.1111/eth.12576.
- Huber, N., Marasco, V., Painera, J., Vetter S.G. Göritz, F., Kaczensky, P., Walzer, C. Leukocyte Coping Capacity: an integrative parameter for wildlife welfare within conservation interventions (Under revision in Frontiers of Veterinary Science).
Contribution to national and international meetings:
- Marasco, V., Smith, S, and Fusani, L. Provisional abstract title: Are transcriptome signalling pathways important determinants of the expression of the migratory phenotype? European Ornithological Union 2019 (EOU2019), Badajoz, Romania (invited speaker, Symposium: “From genes to behaviour: what mechanistic studies can tell us about migration”).
- Marasco, V., and Fusani, L. An experimental laboratory-based approach to study phenotypic flexibility of migratory birds. International Ornithological Congress (IOC2018), Vancouver, Canada (talk).
- Marasco, V., Larriva, M., Spencer, K.A. Integrative biology: a critical step forward to unravel the molecular mechanisms generating behavioural plasticity. European Conference on Behavioural Biology (ECBB2018), Liverpool, UK (keynote speaker and co-organiser Symposium: “Emerging techniques in the study of behavioural plasticity”).
- Marasco, V. An avian model for understanding the main drivers of migration. Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Conference 26th June 2018, Vienna, Austria (talk).
Participation to international meetings:
- Genetics of migration workshop, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön, Germany, 4th-7th April 2017.
- International Conference on diversity in telomere dynamics, Edinburgh, UK, 3th- 5th October 2017.
Invited seminar talks:
- Environmental stressful conditions as main triggers of phenotypic plasticity: merging mechanisms with fitness consequences. 18th September 2018, Centre D’ Études Biologiques de Chizé, Chizé, France.
- Merging underlying mechanisms and fitness consequences of stressful conditions. 16th March 2017, Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution, Vetmeduni Vienna, Austria.
- Merging underlying mechanisms and fitness consequences of stressful conditions over the lifetime course and beyond. 8th March 2017, Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.

As follow, the full list of dissemination activities to the general public:
- Marasco, V., Smith, S., and Fusani, L. An avian model for understanding the main drivers of migration. European Researchers’ Nights “BeScienced” 29th Sept 2017, Vienna, Austria (poster).
- No Japanese quail genetic pollution in captive Common quail in Italy provides pure-bred stock for natural populations. Vetmeduni Press Release;
- Zahme Konkurrenz für wilde Wachteln. Article in Newspaper DerStandard;
- Personal research blog:
- Own twitter feeds:
- Kräftesammeln beim Stopover. Article in VetmedMagazine 03/2018, Vetmeduni Vienna, Austria
Progress beyond the state of the art:
I believe that the project progressed well beyond the state of the art in the scale of our planned experiments, in developing a new experimental model for the study of avian migration as well as for the study of metabolic syndromes (e.g. obesity), and in combining work at the behavioural, physiological and molecular levels. It is indeed very difficult to do long-term, individual-based studies of this kind, especially within the field of avian migration.

Expected results until the end of the project and potential impacts:
The expected final results will bring new insights for the study of rapid changes in energy metabolism and will provide a bridge across different disciplines, including behavioural ecology, poultry science and biomedicine. This knowledge can also provide direct benefits to poultry industry, which is of major economic importance in the EU (2009: poultry consumption in EU = 21.9 Kg/person/year; egg consumption = 12.1 Kg/person/year; source: FAO) and is likely to provide useful information for finding strategies to improve husbandry practice and food safety (in accordance with the Horizon 2020 objectives). Obesity is an issue of tremendous importance for our society (37.0%-69.3% of the EU population was overweight or obese in 2008; source: Eurostat) and the expected results could provide useful insights to identify potential intervention therapies.