Variation at phenological candidate genes correlates with timing of dispersal and plumage morph in a sedentary bird of prey



Polymorphic genes involved in the conserved molecular signalling of circadian and circannual clocks may play important roles in governing the timing of breeding and dispersal and thereby affect fitness in vertebrates. However, relatively few studies have explored associations between phenological candidate genes and behaviour, and these are somewhat biased towards particular taxonomic groups such as passerine birds and salmonid fish. Consequently, we assayed microsatellite polymorphisms within the exonic and 3′ untranslated regions of the regulatory genes CLOCK, NPAS2, ADCYAP1 and CREB1 in the common buzzard (Buteo buteo), a polymorphic raptor species with three plumage morphs that differ in key life history traits including lifetime reproductive success. In contrast to studies of passerines, CLOCK poly-glutamine (poly-Q) was found to be monomorphic in 976 common buzzard nestlings as well as in three other Buteo species. Moreover, none of the candidate genes were significantly associated with fledging dates, although intermediately melanized females were found to lay earlier on average than light or dark morph individuals, and their offspring carried longer ADCYAP1 alleles. In contrast, all three candidate genes explained significant variation in one or more measures of juvenile buzzard dispersal (resighting probability, timing of dispersal and distance dispersed). Our findings contribute towards a broader body of work on the adaptive significance of CLOCK polymorphism, while also building upon previous studies that have documented links between ADCYAP1 variability and the timing of migration.