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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.


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


Some funding for lab expenses is available.