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Timing of molt of barn swallows is delayed in a rare Clock genotype

Author(s): Nicola Saino | Maria Romano | Manuela Caprioli | Mauro Fasola | Roberto Lardelli | Pierfrancesco Micheloni | Chiara Scandolara | Diego Rubolini | Luca Gianfranceschi

Journal: PeerJ
ISSN 2167-8359

Volume: 1;
Start page: e17;
Date: 2013;
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Keywords: Plumage molt | Genetic control | Clock gene | Hirundo rustica | Migration | Sexual dimorphism | Molecular sexing

Photoperiodic responses are major factors entraining circannual life-cycles, functioning to adaptively synchronize annual routines to seasonal fluctuations in ecological conditions. Photoperiodism in physiology and behaviour is enforced by genes, including the vertebrate Clock orthologues, which are associated, for example, with phenology of migration in fish and breeding in birds. However, the role of Clock in photoperiodic plumage molt processes is unknown. We analyzed variation in molt schedules in relation to Clock genotype, using the long-distance migratory barn swallow (Hirundo rustica) as a model and by identifying males and females using molecular sexing techniques. Consistently with previous studies, we found one very common (Q7) and two rare (Q6, Q8) variants of a functionally significant Clock polyglutamine repeat. Molt schedules of primary wing feathers of swallows during their wintering period in Nigeria differed among Clock genotypes: rare (1.1%) Q7/Q8 heterozygotes had significantly delayed molt compared to the other genotypes. Molt schedules did not differ between males and females, and no differential association between molt and Clock in relation to sex emerged. The same rare Clock genotype that exhibited delayed breeding in Europe was here found to delay molt in Africa. Though based on a limited number of Q7/Q8 individuals from an otherwise very large sample, these novel results suggest that Clock is involved in the photoperiodic control of both molt and breeding, potentially also via reciprocal carry-over effects. If confirmed in species with higher Clock polymorphism, present results may have far-reaching consequences for the study of photoperiodic control of molt and expression of annual routines.

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