Avian supergenes

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Science  29 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6272, pp. 446-447
DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0389

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As the extravagant displays of birds of paradise remind us, many birds go to great lengths to pass their genes on to the next generation. Recent papers explore the genetic basis of the reproductive strategies in two bird species: the ruff (Philomachus pugnax) (1, 2) and the white-throated sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) (3). In each species, striking variation in both plumage and behavior is controlled in concert via the inheritance of coadapted gene complexes (supergenes) in large chromosomal inversions. The similar ways in which these independently evolved supergenes influence morphology and behavior elucidate how complex phenotypes evolve and are maintained.