Candidate gene polymorphisms for behavioural adaptations during urbanization in blackbirds



Successful urban colonization by formerly rural species represents an ideal situation in which to study adaptation to novel environments. We address this issue using candidate genes for behavioural traits that are expected to play a role in such colonization events. We identified and genotyped 16 polymorphisms in candidate genes for circadian rhythms, harm avoidance and migratory and exploratory behaviour in 12 paired urban and rural populations of the blackbird Turdus merula across the Western Palaearctic. An exonic microsatellite in the SERT gene, a candidate gene for harm avoidance behaviour, exhibited a highly significant association with habitat type in an analysis conducted across all populations. Genetic divergence at this locus was consistent in 10 of the 12 population pairs; this contrasts with previously reported stochastic genetic divergence between these populations at random markers. Our results indicate that behavioural traits related to harm avoidance and associated with the SERT polymorphism experience selection pressures during most blackbird urbanization events. These events thus appear to be influenced by homogeneous adaptive processes in addition to previously reported demographic founder events.