African Zoology

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Mc1r genotype and plumage colouration in highly polymorphic jackal buzzards, Buteo rufofuscus

Sophia Bam, Lorinda Hart, Sandi Willows-Munro


Evolution is driven by natural selection acting on variable phenotypic traits. Understanding the molecular basis of those traits is crucial for elucidating the mechanisms of natural selection. The southern African jackal buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus) displays extreme plumage colour polymorphism, with colouration on the chest varying from dark black to pale white. In a number of birds and other vertebrates, genetic variation at the melanocortin-1 receptor (Mc1r) gene is associated with melanin-based colour variation. Here, the Mc1r gene was sequenced from 12 jackal buzzard individuals displaying three distinct colour morphs (dark, intermediate and pale). A single nucleotide change was found, which although it resulted in an amino acid change, was shared by all jackal buzzards irrespective of colour morph. Although the Mc1r has played an important role in colour polymorphism in other species, in this study no association between Mc1r genotype and plumage polymorphism in jackal buzzards was found.

Keywords: Buteo rufofuscus; colouration; melanocortin system; plumage polymorphism

AJOL African Journals Online