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Am Nat. 2009 Aug;174(2):244-54. doi: 10.1086/600084.

Difference in plumage color used in species recognition between incipient species is linked to a single amino acid substitution in the melanocortin-1 receptor.

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Department of Biology, Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York 13244, USA.


Many studies demonstrate that differences in mating signals are used by incipient species in recognizing potential mates or sexual competitors (i.e., species recognition). Little is known, however, about the genetic changes responsible for these differences in mating signals. Populations of the Monarcha castaneiventris flycatcher vary in plumage color across the Solomon Islands, with a subspecies on Makira Island having chestnut bellies and blue-black upper parts (Monarcha castaneiventris megarhynchus) and a subspecies on neighboring satellite islands being entirely blue-black (melanic; Monarcha castaneiventris ugiensis). Here we show that a single nonsynonymous point mutation in the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene is present in all melanic birds from one island (Santa Ana) but absent in all chestnut-bellied birds from Makira Island, implicating this mutation in causing melanism. Birds from a second satellite island (Ugi) do not show the same perfect association between this MC1R variant and plumage color, suggesting an alternative mechanism for melanism on this island. Finally, taxidermic mount presentation experiments in Makira (chestnut) and Santa Ana (melanic) suggest that the plumage difference mediates species recognition. Assuming that the signals used in species recognition are also used in mutual mate choice, our results indicate that a single amino acid substitution contributes to speciation.

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