Seasonal migration is a dynamic natural phenomenon that allows organisms to exploit favourable habitats across the annual cycle. While the morphological, physiological and behavioural changes associated with migratory behaviour are well characterized, the genetic basis of migration and its link to endogenous biological time-keeping pathways are poorly understood. Historically, genome-wide research has focused on genes of large effect, whereas many genes of small effect may work together to regulate complex traits like migratory behaviour. Here, we explicitly relax stringent outlier detection thresholds and, as a result, discover how multiple biological time-keeping genes are important to migratory timing in an iconic raptor species, the American kestrel (Falco sparverius). To validate the role of candidate loci in migratory timing, we genotyped kestrels captured across autumn migration and found significant associations between migratory timing and genetic variation in metabolic and light-input pathway genes that modulate biological clocks (top1, phlpp1, cpne4 and peak1). Further, we demonstrate that migrating individuals originated from a single panmictic source population, suggesting the existence of distinct early and late migratory genotypes (i.e. chronotypes). Overall, our results provide empirical support for the existence of a within-population-level polymorphism in genes underlying migratory timing in a diurnally migrating raptor.
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Bossu, Christen M.; Heath, Julie A.; Kaltenecker, Gregory S.; Helm, Barbara; and Ruegg, Kristen C.. (2022). "Clock-Linked Genes Underlie Seasonal Migratory Timing in a Diurnal Raptor". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 289(1974), 20212507, . https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.2507