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Uniform vs. particoloured plumage

Source: en.uni-muenchen.de

Although carrion crows and hooded crows are almost indistinguishable genetically, they avoid mating with each other. LMU researchers have now identified a mutation that appears to contribute to this instance of reproductive isolation.

The carrion crow and the hooded crow are genetically closely related, but they are distinguishable on the basis of the colour of their plumage. The carrion crow’s feathers are soot-black, while the hooded crow’s plumage presents a particoloured combination of black and light grey. Although crosses between the two forms can produce fertile offspring, the region of overlap between their geographical distributions in Europe is strikingly narrow. For this reason, the two forms have become a popular model for the elucidation of the processes that lead to species divergence. LMU evolutionary biologist Jochen Wolf and his team are studying the factors that contribute to the divergence of the two populations at the molecular level. Genetic analyses have already suggested that differences in the colour of the plumage play an important role in limiting the frequency of hybridisation between carrion and hooded crows. The scientists have now identified a crucial mutation that affects this character. Their findings appear in the online journal Nature Communications, and imply that all corvid species were originally uniformly black in colour. MORE

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