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Recent natural selection causes adaptive evolution of an avian polygenic trait

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Science  20 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6361, pp. 365-368
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal3298

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Recent natural selection in a wild bird

Many studies have found evidence of rapid evolution in response to environmental change. In most cases, there has been some suggestion of which traits might be most responsive ahead of time. Bosse et al. turn this approach on its head by using genomic regions with a signature of selection to identify traits that are changing. In great tits (Parus major) in the United Kingdom, genomic regions showing selection invariably contained genes associated with bill growth. Indeed, U.K. birds not only have longer bills, but these longer bills are associated with increased fitness. These changes likely reflect an increase in domestic garden bird feeders over the past several decades.

Science, this issue p. 365

Abstract

We used extensive data from a long-term study of great tits (Parus major) in the United Kingdom and Netherlands to better understand how genetic signatures of selection translate into variation in fitness and phenotypes. We found that genomic regions under differential selection contained candidate genes for bill morphology and used genetic architecture analyses to confirm that these genes, especially the collagen gene COL4A5, explained variation in bill length. COL4A5 variation was associated with reproductive success, which, combined with spatiotemporal patterns of bill length, suggested ongoing selection for longer bills in the United Kingdom. Last, bill length and COL4A5 variation were associated with usage of feeders, suggesting that longer bills may have evolved in the United Kingdom as a response to supplementary feeding.

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