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Mechanisms of sexual dimorphism in avian coloration

Supervisor: Nick Mundy

Project summary:

Many birds show striking differences in coloration between males and females, which is often related to sexual selection on male coloration. However, there is a surprisingly poor understanding of the proximate mechanisms for these differences. The project will investigate this using spectacular red coloration of male weaverbirds as a model system. The recent identification of candidate genes for this coloration now makes it a tractable system.

What the student will be doing:

The main approach will be to quantify gene expression differences between male and female birds, and also between birds in breeding and non-breeding plumage. This will involve both transcriptome (RNA-Seq) and quantitative RT-PCR studies. There will be an opportunity to perform fieldwork in S. Africa to obtain samples.

References:

Mundy, N. I. et al (2016) Red carotenoid  coloration in the zebra finch is controlled by a cytochrome P450 gene cluster.   Current Biology 26, 1435-1440. DOI: 10.106/j.cub.2016.04.047      

Twyman, H., Prager, M., *Mundy, N. I. and S. Andersson (2018) Expression of a carotenoid-modifying gene and the evolution of red coloration in ploceids. Mol. Ecol. 27, 449-458. DOI: 10.1111/mec.14451

Funding

Some funding for lab expenses is available.