Personality and melanin-based colouration traits in barn owls, tawny owl and kestrels


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Thèse: thèse de doctorat.
Personality and melanin-based colouration traits in barn owls, tawny owl and kestrels
van den Brink V.
Roulin  A.
Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine
Departement d'Ecologie et d'Evolution, Université de Lausanne, CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland
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Individuals need to adapt to their local environment in order to survive. When selection pressures differ in local populations, polymorphism can evolve. Colour polymorphism is one of the most obvious polymorphisms since it is readily observable. Different sources of colouration exist, but melanin-based colouration is one of the most common in birds. The melanocortin system produces this colouration and because the melanocortin system has pleiotropic effects on behavioural and physiological traits, it is a good candidate to be an underlying mechanism to explain the maintenance of colour polymorphism.
In this thesis I studied three different raptors which all display melanin-based colouration; barn owls (Tyto alba), tawny owls (Strix aluco) and Eurasian kestrels (Falco tinnunculus). The main question was if there was a relationship between melanin-based colouration and individual behavioural differences. The underlying hypothesis is that colour could be a signal of certain adaptive traits. Our goal was to find evolutionary explanations for the persistence of colour polymorphism.
I found that nestling kestrels and barn owls differ in anti-predatory behaviour, with respect to their melanic colouration (chapters 1 and 2). Darker individuals show less reaction to human handling, but in kestrels aggression and colouration are related in opposite ways than in barn owls. More reddish barn owls travel greater distances in natal dispersal and this behaviour is repeatable between parents and same sex offspring (chapter 3). Dark reddish tawny owls defend their nests more intensely against intruders and appear to suffer less from nest predation (chapter 4). Finally I show that polymorphism in the Melanocortin 1 receptor gene (MC1R), which is strongly correlated with reddish colouration in the barn owl, is related to natal dispersal distance, providing a first indication for a genetic basis of the relation between this behaviour and colouration (chapter 5).
My results demonstrate a clear link between melanin-based colouration and animal personality traits. I demonstrated this relation in three different species, which shows there is most likely a general underlying mechanism responsible. Different predation pressures might have shaped the reactions to predation, but also differences in sex-related colouration. Male-like and female-like colouration might signal more or less aggressive behaviour. Fluctuating environmental conditions might cause different individual strategies to produce equal reproductive success. The melanocortin system with its pleiotropic effects might be an underlying mechanism, as suggested by the results from the genetic polymorphism, the similar results found in these three species and by the similar relations reported in other species.
This thesis demonstrates that colouration and individual differences are correlated and it provides the first glimpse of an underlying system. We can now conduct a more directed search for underlying mechanisms and evolutionary explanations with the use of quantitative genetic methods.
Création de la notice
13/07/2012 10:39
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20/08/2019 14:26
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