Genes make crows choose partners that look alike

Published: 2014-06-23


Crows like to select mates that look alike. In a large-scale genomic study, published in Science today, a team of researchers led by Uppsala University found that this behaviour might be rooted in their genetic make-up, revealing a likely common evolutionary path that allows for separating populations into novel species.

 

What is the driving engine behind biodiversity? One and a half centuries ago, Charles Darwin recognized that species are subject to evolutionary change. Now, we know that all aspects defining an organism are encoded in its genome. Yet, how new species emerge from slight genetic changes remains unanswered. Crows, for example, are all black or grey coated, and they exhibit a strong tendency to select partners that look alike.

The researchers identified an avian system – crows and ravens of the genus Corvus – that they used as an evolutionary model to decipher the genetic underpinnings of speciation. Central to this system is the independent recurrence of a pied colour-pattern in several species of the genus that stands in contrasts to the predominant all-black plumage in the clade.

‘This finding suggests the exciting possibility that a mate-choice relevant trait, like coloration, might be genetically coupled to its perception which could be common one evolutionary path allowing for separating populations into novel species. Such a mechanism could be common for many other species with visually oriented mate choice’, says Jochen Wolf, member of SciLifeLab Faculty and researcher in Evolutionary Biology at Uppsala University, one of the lead authors of the study.

Read the full press release