• breeding plumage coloration;
  • intronic polymorphism;
  • molecular sexing;
  • population structure;
  • shorebirds

We show that variation in an intronic length polymorphism in the CHD1-Z gene in Black-tailed Godwits Limosa l. limosa is associated with fitness correlates. This is the second example of the CHDZ-1 gene being correlated with fitness, a previous study having established that Moorhens Gallinula chloropus carrying the rare Z* allele have reduced survival. In Godwits, however, carriers of the Z* allele (374 bp) fared better than those with the more frequent Z allele (378 bp) with respect to body mass, plumage ornamentation, reproductive parameters and habitat quality. The Z* allele was found in 14% of 251 adult birds from nature reserves, but was absent from 33 birds breeding in intensively managed agricultural lands. Males and females with the Z* allele had less extensive breeding plumage, and females had a higher body mass, bred earlier and had larger eggs. There were no significant differences in annual survival between birds with and without the Z* allele. DNA isolated from museum skins demonstrated that this polymorphism was present at low frequency in 1929. We speculate that strong asymmetrical overdominance may explain the low frequency of the Z* allele and that genetic linkage to causal genes might be an explanation for the phenotypic correlations. Our findings suggest a degree of cryptic genetic population structuring in the Dutch Godwit population.