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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1996 Dec 10;93(25):14642-7.

Frequency of migrants and migratory activity are genetically correlated in a bird population: evolutionary implications.

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Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology, Schloss, Radolfzell, Germany.


Most migratory bird populations are composed of individuals that migrate and individuals that remain resident. While the role of ecological factors in maintaining this behavioral dimorphism has received much attention, the importance of genetic constraints on the evolution of avian migration has not yet been considered. Drawing on the recorded migratory activities of 775 blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) from a partially migratory population in southern France, we tested two alternative genetic models about the relationship between incidence and amount of migratory activity. The amount of migratory activity could be the continuous variable "underlying" the phenotypic expression of migratory urge, or, alternatively, the expression of both traits could be controlled by two separate genetic systems. The distributions of migratory activities in five different cohorts and the inheritance pattern derived from selective breeding experiments both indicate that incidence and amount of migratory activity are two aspects of one trait. Thus, all birds without measurable activity have activity levels at the low end of a continuous distribution, below the limit of expression or detection. The phenotypic dichotomy "migrant-nonmigrant" is caused by a threshold which may not be fixed but influenced both genetically and environmentally. This finding has profound implications for the evolution of migration: the transition from migratoriness to residency should not only be driven by selection favoring resident birds but also by selection for lower migratory activity. This potential for selection on two aspects, residency and migration distance, of the same trait may enable extremely rapid evolutionary changes to occur in migratory behavior.

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