A supergene underlies linked variation in color and morphology in a Holarctic songbird

Document Type


Publication Date



The genetic architecture of a phenotype can have considerable effects on the evolution of a trait or species. Characterizing genetic architecture provides insight into the complexity of a given phenotype and, potentially, the role of the phenotype in evolutionary processes like speciation. We use genome sequences to investigate the genetic basis of phenotypic variation in redpoll finches (Acanthis spp.). We demonstrate that variation in redpoll phenotype is broadly controlled by a ~55-Mb chromosomal inversion. Within this inversion, we find multiple candidate genes related to melanogenesis, carotenoid coloration, and bill shape, suggesting the inversion acts as a supergene controlling multiple linked traits. A latitudinal gradient in ecotype distribution suggests supergene driven variation in color and bill morphology are likely under environmental selection, maintaining supergene haplotypes as a balanced polymorphism. Our results provide a mechanism for the maintenance of ecotype variation in redpolls despite a genome largely homogenized by gene flow.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Nature communications

First Page


This document is currently not available here.