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Keywords:

  • candidate genes;
  • G matrices;
  • genetic correlations;
  • QTL mapping;
  • quantitative genetics;
  • sexual dimorphism;
  • Taeniopygia guttata;
  • zebra finch

Abstract

The intra- and interspecific diversity of avian beak morphologies is one of the most compelling examples for the power of natural selection acting on a morphological trait. The development and diversification of the beak have also become a textbook example for evolutionary developmental biology, and variation in expression levels of several genes is known to causally affect beak shape. However, until now, no genomic polymorphisms have been identified, which are related to beak morphology in birds. QTL mapping does reveal the location of causal polymorphisms, albeit with poor spatial resolution. Here, we estimate heritability and genetic correlations for beak length, depth and width and perform a QTL linkage analysis for these traits based on 1404 informative single-nucleotide polymorphisms genotyped in a four-generation pedigree of 992 captive zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Beak size, relative to body size, was sexually dimorphic (larger in males). Heritability estimates ranged from 0.47 for beak length to 0.74 for beak width. QTL mapping revealed four to five regions of significant or suggestive genome-wide linkage for each of the three beak dimensions (nine different regions in total). Eight out of 11 genes known to influence beak morphology are located in these nine peak regions. Five QTL do not cover known candidates demonstrating that yet unknown genes or regulatory elements may influence beak morphology in the zebra finch.