Dr Neil Walsh
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Telephone: ++44 (0) 1223 331771
Fax: +44 (0) 1223 336676
2004-2007 BA (Hons), Zoology, University College Dublin
2007 – 2011 PhD, Genetics, University of Cambridge
Bird colouration has long been an important area of study in the field of evolutionary ecology. Understanding the genetics of adaptive colour variation can give an insight into how evolutionary forces such as sexual selection operate at a molecular level and how they lead to the diverse array of colourful forms that are observed among wild bird species.
My PhD research focussed on attempting to isolate genes involved in the production of red and yellow carotenoid colouration in birds. Although carotenoid colouration is often important for condition-dependent signalling in birds, very little is known about the molecular mechanisms regulating the uptake, metabolism and deposition of this pigment type. Using the red-billed quelea (Quelea quelea), a species highly polymorphic for its carotenoid colouration, as a model organism, I identified a number of loci with putative roles in the production of carotenoid pigmentation. This research represents an important starting point for future work on carotenoid colour regulation in vertebrate taxa.
My postdoctoral research involves investigating the genetic basis of a melanin-based colour polymorphism in the skin of grey warbler (Gerygone igata) chicks. The grey warbler is a host species for the shining-bronze cuckoo (Chalcides lucidus), a southern hemisphere cuckoo which shows remarkable mimicry in chick coloration. Different populations of this species have differently coloured chicks which accurately mimic the chicks of the local host passerine - consequently cuckoo chicks are completely black in some populations, and pale in others. Using 454 next-generation sequencing, I am attempting to isolate genes involved in determining the grey warbler skin polymorphism, in order to gain an insight into the molecular mechanisms potentially underlying adaptive variation in cuckoo host-parasite relations.
Walsh, N., J. Dale, K. J. McGraw, M. A. Pointer, and N. I. Mundy. 2011. Candidate genes for carotenoid coloration in vertebrates and their expression profiles in the carotenoid-containing plumage and bill of a wild bird. Proc. R. Soc. B: doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.0765.