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Genetics & evolution of migration

The migratory behavior includes a suite of traits that the animals need for travelling between areas of reproduction and survival. These traits are often referred to as the “Migratory Syndrome”. Ultimately, these traits should be coordinated so that the journey is optimal regarding three key elements; timing, direction and distance.

Depending on species and the barriers and distances to cross, the suite of migratory traits include what compasses to use (magnetic field, sun, stars), cue perception and navigation, capacity of fuel storage (fat and proteins), aerodynamic function (e.g. wing morphology) and various adaptations to the distinct areas of occupation during the migratory cycle (food, predators and parasites).

From an evolutionary point, migration is a very labile trait. Different populations of the same species can show extreme differences, from fully sedentary to those that migrate between continents. How can such complex traits evolve so quickly and under other circumstances get lost? Understanding the genetic architecture of the Migratory Syndrome is a formidable task that goes far beyond the CAnMove program.

Nonetheless, the recent and rapid advancements of molecular techniques now make it possible to start this exciting research. Microsatellite, AFLP (Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism) and SNP (Single-Nucleotide Polymorphism) analyses can be used in high throughput systems for identification of markers linked to genes essential for adaptive migration. With microarray analyses and transcriptome sequencing, gene expression profiles can be compared between individuals showing different migratory behaviors to find out the suite of genes up and down regulated during migration.

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Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden