Melanin; Melanin-based color; Melanocortin; Color polymorphism; Sexually antagonistic selection
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(2016), Barn owl feathers as biomonitors of mercury : sources of variation in sampling procedures, in Ecotoxicology
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(2016), Barn owls display larger black feather spots in cooler regions on the British Isles, in Biological Journal of the Linnean Society
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(2015), Pheomelanin-based colouration is correlated with indices of flying strategies in the barn owl, in Journal of Ornithology
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(2015), Relationship between diet and reproductive success in the Israeli barn owl, in Journal of Arid Environments
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(2015), Sex-linked inheritance, genetic correlations and sexual dimorphism in three melanin-based color traits in the barn owl, in Journal of Evolutionary Biology
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(2015), Spatial variation in the decline of European birds as shown by the barn owl (Tyto alba) diet, in Bird Study
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Establishing the links between phenotype and genotype is key to resolve questions about the evolution, maintenance and adaptive function of phenotypic variation. This is particularly interesting when a phenotype is positively selected in one sex but negatively in the other sex (sexually antagonistic selection). Identifying the genes responsible for variation in phenotypes selected in opposite direction in the two sexes is particularly interesting because these genes may have beneficial physiological effects in one sex but detrimental in the other sex. In the present project, we intend to tackle the genetic basis of sexually antagonistic selection exerted on a melanin-based plumage trait in the cosmopolitan barn owl. Owls display black spots on feather tips, a genetically inherited trait for which the expression is not sensitive to the environment and body condition. Although males and females can express any phenotype, males are on average smaller-spotted than females. Females displaying large black spots have a selective advantage over smaller-spotted male-like females (and the other way round in males). Because the melanocortin system is involved in the expression of melanin pigments and pleiotropically regulate a large number of physiological and behavioral traits, we hypothesized that genes of the melanocortin system are sexually antagonistically selected promoting the evolution of intralocus sexual genetic conflict. Because we are specifically interested in the melanocortin system, we will look for polymorphisms in this system as well as measure the expression levels of these genes in relation to melanin-based coloration and their associated traits. We plan a number of (experimental) studies to understand the evolutionary implications of the melanocortin system, a topic that had not been considered until we proposed that this system explains why melanin-based colorations covary with many phenotypic traits in a consistent way across vertebrates. This project performed at the local (Switzerland) and worldwide scales is of interest from both evolutionary and medical point of views. Indeed, melanin-based coloration is found in most animals including humans and the underlying genetic system (particularly the melanocortin system) is highly conserved and implicated in many physiological functions and diseases.