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1.  Boldness behavior and stress physiology in a novel urban environment suggest rapid correlated evolutionary adaptation 
Behavioral Ecology  2012;23(5):960-969 .
Novel or changing environments expose animals to diverse stressors that likely require coordinated hormonal and behavioral adaptations. Predicted adaptations to urban environments include attenuated physiological responses to stressors and bolder exploratory behaviors, but few studies to date have evaluated the impact of urban life on codivergence of these hormonal and behavioral traits in natural systems. Here, we demonstrate rapid adaptive shifts in both stress physiology and correlated boldness behaviors in a songbird, the dark-eyed junco, following its colonization of a novel urban environment. We compared elevation in corticosterone (CORT) in response to handling and flight initiation distances in birds from a recently established urban population in San Diego, California to birds from a nearby wildland population in the species' ancestral montane breeding range. We also measured CORT and exploratory behavior in birds raised from early life in a captive common garden study. We found persistent population differences for both reduced CORT responses and bolder exploratory behavior in birds from the colonist population, as well as significant negative covariation between maximum CORT and exploratory behavior. Although early developmental effects cannot be ruled out, these results suggest contemporary adaptive evolution of correlated hormonal and behavioral traits associated with colonization of an urban habitat.
PMCID: PMC3431113  PMID: 22936840
adaptation; boldness; corticosterone; evolution; junco; urbanization
2.  Variation in candidate genes CLOCK and ADCYAP1 does not consistently predict differences in migratory behavior in the songbird genus Junco  
F1000Research  2013;2:115.
Recent studies exploring the molecular genetic basis for migratory variation in animals have identified polymorphisms in two genes ( CLOCK and ADCYAP1) that are linked to circadian rhythms and correlate with migratory propensity and phenology among individuals and populations. Results from these initial studies are mixed, however, and additional data are needed to assess the generality and diversity of the molecular mechanisms that regulate the biology of migration. We sequenced CLOCK and ADCYAP1 in 15 populations across the two species of the avian genus Junco, a North American lineage in which multiple recently diverged subspecies and populations range from sedentary to long-distance migrants. We found no consistent associations between allele length and migratory status across the genus for either CLOCK or ADCYAP1. However, within two subspecies groups, populations that migrate longer distances have longer CLOCK alleles on average. Additionally, there was a positive relationship between ADCYAP1 allele length and migratory restlessness (zugunruhe) among individuals within one of two captive populations studied—a result similar to those reported previously within captive blackcaps ( Sylvia atricapilla). We conclude that, while both ADCYAP1 and CLOCK may correlate with migratory propensity within or among certain populations or species, previously identified relationships between migratory behavior and sequence variants cannot be easily generalized across taxa.
PMCID: PMC3907158  PMID: 24627781
3.  Maintenance of MHC Class IIB diversity in a recently established songbird population 
Journal of avian biology  2012;43(2):109-118.
We examined variation at MHC Class IIB genes in a recently established population of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) in a coastal urban environment in southern California, USA relative to an ancestral-range population from a nearby species-typical montane environment. The founding population is estimated to have been quite small, but we predicted that variation at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) among the founders would nevertheless be preserved owing to the high functional significance of MHC. Previous studies of MHC in songbirds have had varying degrees of success in isolating loci, as passerines show extensive MHC gene duplication. In order to compare diversity in the two populations, we employed two published approaches to sequencing MHC Class II exon 2: direct sequencing with exon-based primers, and traditional cloning and sequencing with intron-based primers. Results from both methods show that the colonist population has maintained high levels of variation. Our results also indicate varying numbers of alleles across individuals, corroborating evidence for gene duplication in songbird MHC. While future studies in songbirds may need to take a genomic approach to fully understand the structure of MHC in this lineage, our results show that it is possible to use traditional methods to reveal functional variation across populations.
PMCID: PMC3368239  PMID: 22685370
MHC; birds; passerines; colonization
4.  Songbird chemosignals: volatile compounds in preen gland secretions vary among individuals, sexes, and populations 
Behavioral Ecology  2010;21(3):608-614.
Chemical signaling has been documented in many animals, but its potential importance in avian species, particularly songbirds, has received far less attention. We tested whether volatile compounds in the preen oil of a songbird (Junco hyemalis) contain reliable information about individual identity, sex, or population of origin by repeated sampling from captive male and female juncos originating from 2 recently diverged junco populations in southern California. One of the populations recently colonized an urban environment; the other resides in a species-typical montane environment. The birds were field-caught as juveniles, housed under identical conditions, and fed the same diet for 10 months prior to sampling. We used capillary gas chromatography–mass spectrometry to quantify the relative abundance of 19 volatile compounds previously shown to vary seasonally in this species. We found individual repeatability as well as significant sex and population differences in volatile profiles. The persistence of population differences in a common environment suggests that preen oil chemistry likely has a genetic basis and may thus evolve rapidly in response to environmental change. These finding suggest that songbird preen oil odors have the potential to function as chemosignals associated with mate recognition or reproductive isolation.
PMCID: PMC2854530  PMID: 22475692
birds; chemical communication; Junco hyemalis; olfaction; pheromones
5.  Phenotypic integration and independence: Hormones, performance, and response to environmental change 
Hormones coordinate the co-expression of behavioral, physiological, and morphological traits, giving rise to correlations among traits and organisms whose parts work well together. This article considers the implications of these hormonal correlations with respect to the evolution of hormone-mediated traits. Such traits can evolve owing to changes in hormone secretion, hormonal affinity for carrier proteins, rates of degradation and conversion, and interaction with target tissues to name a few. Critically, however, we know very little about whether these changes occur independently or in tandem, and thus whether hormones promote the evolution of tight phenotypic integration or readily allow the parts of the phenotype to evolve independently. For example, when selection favors a change in expression of hormonally mediated characters, is that alteration likely to come about through changes in hormone secretion (signal strength), changes in response to a fixed level of secretion (sensitivity of target tissues), or both? At one extreme, if the phenotype is tightly integrated and only the signal responds via selection's action on one or more hormonally mediated traits, adaptive modification may be constrained by past selection for phenotypic integration. Alternatively, response to selection may be facilitated if multivariate selection favors new combinations that can be easily achieved by a change in signal strength. On the other hand, if individual target tissues readily “unplug” from a hormone signal in response to selection, then the phenotype may be seen as a loose confederation that responds on a trait-by-trait basis, easily allowing adaptive modification, although perhaps more slowly than if signal variation were the primary mode of evolutionary response. Studies reviewed here and questions for future research address the relative importance of integration and independence by comparing sexes, individuals, and populations. Most attention is devoted to the hormone testosterone (T) and a songbird species, the dark-eyed junco (Junco hyemalis).
PMCID: PMC4012227  PMID: 21665827

Results 1-5 (5)