Melanocortin-1-receptor (MC1R) variation is not associated with parasite burdens in neotropical bird, the bananaquit (Coereba flaveola)

Andrew D. C. MacColl, Ian R. Stevenson, David Richardson

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It has been suggested that selection on melanocortin-1-receptor (MC1R) polymorphism, a common cause of melanic colour variation in vertebrates, results from pleiotropic effects of the gene in the immune system. Here we present the first test of whether MC1R variation is associated with differences in parasite abundance in a natural population. Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) (Linnaeus, 1758) living on Grenada in the Caribbean exhibit a melanic plumage dimorphism as a result of a mutation in MC1R. The proportion of black individuals increases clinally towards the central, wetter parts of the island. We captured bananaquits through the cline and quantified parasite abundances. Avian malaria, feather mites, and mallophaga lice varied significantly in abundance across the cline; however, neither these infections, nor coccidia, nor arboviruses showed overall differences between the morphs. Feather mites tended to be more abundant on black individuals, in areas where the black morph was more common. This may result from differences in microhabitat use by the two morphs. These patterns do not support the idea that MC1R variation in itself results in differing susceptibility to parasites. © 2013 The Linnean Society of London
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)882-888
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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