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Genetics and evidence for balancing selection of a sex-linked colour polymorphism in a songbird

Kim, Kang-Wook; Jackson, Benjamin C.; Zhang, Hanyuan; Toews, David P. L.; Taylor, Scott A.; Greig, Emma I.; Lovette, Irby J.; Liu, Mengning M.; Davison, Angus; Griffith, Simon C.; Zeng, Kai; Burke, Terry


Kang-Wook Kim

Benjamin C. Jackson

Hanyuan Zhang

David P. L. Toews

Scott A. Taylor

Emma I. Greig

Irby J. Lovette

Mengning M. Liu

Professor of Evolutionary Genetics

Simon C. Griffith

Kai Zeng

Terry Burke


Colour polymorphisms play a key role in sexual selection and speciation, yet the mechanisms that generate and maintain them are not fully understood. Here, we use genomic and transcriptomic tools to identify the precise genetic architecture and evolutionary history of a sex-linked colour polymorphism in the Gouldian finch Erythrura gouldiae that is also accompanied by remarkable differences in behaviour and physiology. We find that differences in colour are associated with an ~72-kbp region of the Z chromosome in a putative regulatory region for follistatin, an antagonist of the TGF-? superfamily genes. The region is highly differentiated between morphs, unlike the rest of the genome, yet we find no evidence that an inversion is involved in maintaining the distinct haplotypes. Coalescent simulations confirm that there is elevated nucleotide diversity and an excess of intermediate frequency alleles at this locus. We conclude that this pleiotropic colour polymorphism is most probably maintained by balancing selection.


Kim, K., Jackson, B. C., Zhang, H., Toews, D. P. L., Taylor, S. A., Greig, E. I., …Burke, T. (2019). Genetics and evidence for balancing selection of a sex-linked colour polymorphism in a songbird. Nature Communications, 10(1), Article 1852.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 22, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 23, 2019
Publication Date 2019-12
Deposit Date May 1, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 10, 2019
Journal Nature Communications
Electronic ISSN 2041-1723
Publisher Nature Publishing Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 10
Issue 1
Article Number 1852
Keywords General biochemistry, Genetics and molecular biology; General physics and astronomy; General chemistry
Public URL
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