Sequence variation in the melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene explains color morph variation in several species of birds and mammals. Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax) exhibit major dark/light color differences in melanin-based male breeding plumage which is closely associated with alternative reproductive behavior. A previous study identified a microsatellite marker (Ppu020) near the MC1R locus associated with the presence/absence of ornamental plumage. We investigated whether coding sequence variation in the MC1R gene explains major dark/light plumage color variation and/or the presence/absence of ornamental plumage in ruffs. Among 821 bp of the MC1R coding region from 44 male ruffs we found 3 single nucleotide polymorphisms, representing 1 nonsynonymous and 2 synonymous amino acid substitutions. None were associated with major dark/light color differences or the presence/absence of ornamental plumage. At all amino acid sites known to be functionally important in other avian species with dark/light plumage color variation, ruffs were either monomorphic or the shared polymorphism did not coincide with color morph. Neither ornamental plumage color differences nor the presence/absence of ornamental plumage in ruffs are likely to be caused entirely by amino acid variation within the coding regions of the MC1R locus. Regulatory elements and structural variation at other loci may be involved in melanin expression and contribute to the extreme plumage polymorphism observed in this species.
- plumage variation
- sequence variation