‘Thrill-seeking’ genes might assist birds escape local weather change

‘Ooh, novelty!’

Joe Ellis

Should I stay or should I go? That’s the question facing all wildlife when climate change makes home territory unsuitable. A study has now found that having variants of two novelty-seeking genes might help some warblers survive by making lifesaving migration more attractive to them than to peers who risk local extinction by staying put.

Both genes, called DRD4 and DEAF1, have already been linked with novelty-seeking in , fish and other birds. After screening DNA from 229 yellow warblers in 21 diverse populations spread throughout North America, researchers led by of the University of California at Los Angeles identified the pair of genes as having the strongest effect on survival.

The variants, identified through a DNA-marker on chromosome 5, were least common in declining populations already threatened by climate change, such as the drought-ravaged Rocky Mountains in the western US. “If their finding stands up that there are two specific genes associated with migration and novelty-seeking behaviour, it will be a big step forward in understanding adaption to climate change,” comments of Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

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Bay and her colleagues say that the first adapters to climate change may be those that can , rather than evolving new physical characteristics. Although the study is relatively small, identifying genes crucial for behaviour change might provide new ways to assess which species and populations are least able to adapt in time to climate changes.

Source: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aar3920

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