CAREER: Molecular Analysis of Avian Breeding Ecology: A Research and Education Program in Molecular Ecology
Michael Webster Principal Investigator
MetadataShow full item record
ABSTRACT PI: Webster PROPOSAL NUMBER: 9629422 The recent application of molecular genetic techniques to ecological studies has yielded important insights and some surprising results. One example is the recent application of DNA profiling analyses to studies of avian mating systems, that have shown that many young are sired by males other than their social father (i.e., the male in attendance at the nest). Such extra- pair fertilizations call into question a basic assumption of many models in behavioral ecology; i.e., reproductive fidelity between mated pairs. Although several studies have addressed the selective benefits that females might receive by copulating with extra-pair males, relatively few have examined the ecological conditions that lead some females, but not others, to engage in such copulations. At the core of the career development plan proposed here is a four-year research project designed to examine the ecological basis of extra-pair copulations in a socially monogamous passerine, the black-throated blue warbler. The primary objective of this research project is to discriminate among four hypotheses to explain female reproductive strategies. This objective will be achieved by using molecular genetic techniques, in combination with observations of marked individuals and experimental field manipulations, to examine the ecological and social factors thought to affect female behavior. Multilocus DNA profiling and PCR-amplification of SSR loci will be used to identify young sired by extra-pair males and their sires, and experimental field manipulations will be used to test for associations among territory quality, male genetic quality, female settlement, male behaviors and extra-pair fertilizations. In addition, these data will also be used to achieve two secondary objectives: (1) the selectiv e benefits of extra-pair copulations to females in this population will be examined and (2) extra-pair sires will be identified to determine true reproductive success. Thus, this study will yield a better understanding of the ecological causes and consequences of extra- pair copulations, as well as a better understanding of how sexual selection operates in socially monogamous species. Although molecular biology techniques have revolutionized almost every discipline in biology, only recent have they been applied to ecological research. This career development plan proposes an education program in molecular exology that will meet this need in the training of graduate and undergraduate students. The education program consists of: (1) a lecture course in exological genetics, (2) a lab course in this subject, (3) a molecular ecology journal club, (4) direct supervision of students conducting research in molecular ecology. This education program will be closely integrated with the proposed research program.