Bill adaptation in parrots: finding loci involved in surface area increases by integrating morphometrics with NGS

This project has been awarded and is no longer available

CBA-supported Honours project (2016)

Recent reports of temporal increases in avian bill size may constitute an adaptive response to climate warming because bills are integral in regulating body temperature - larger bills improve heat dissipation at the same time as limiting evaporative water loss.

In particular, bill surface area in mulga (Psephotus varius) and red-rumped parrots (Psephotus haematonotus) has increased by 10% and 7% respectively since 1871.

The genetic basis of these increases is unknown. However, there is mounting evidence that bill morphology is underpinned by a relatively small number of loci (e.g. the ALX1 gene in Darwin’s finches).

As bill surface area has been linked to thermoregulation and thus fitness, this project will contribute to our understanding of the genetic basis of climate adaptation by identify putative functional candidate alleles and genes involved in bill size variation in birds.

This project is also a test case in applying genome-wide-association analysis to museum specimens, through integrating morphometric analysis with whole-genome sequencing. Its success will demonstrate that adaptive alleles can indeed be identified from careful, ecologically informed analyses of existing historical specimens. 

The successful student will be receive a $5000 stipend and will have the opportunity to undertake their research in CSIRO at the Australian National Wildlife Collection (ANWC).

For more information, please contact Kerensa McElroy (ANWC).

See here for more information regarding honours eligibility and enrolment in the Research School of Biology.