Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Genetic mapping of the female mimic morph locus in the ruff

Lindsay L Farrell12*, Terry Burke1, Jon Slate1, Susan B McRae3 and David B Lank2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, S10 2TN, UK

2 Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC V5A 1S6, Canada

3 Department of Biology and Center for Biodiversity, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC 27858-4353, USA

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:109  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-109

Published: 20 November 2013



Ruffs (Aves: Philomachus pugnax) possess a genetic polymorphism for male mating behaviour resulting in three permanent alternative male reproductive morphs: (i) territorial ‘Independents’, (ii) non-territorial ‘Satellites’, and (iii) female-mimicking ‘Faeders’. Development into independent or satellite morphs has previously been shown to be due to a single-locus, two-allele autosomal Mendelian mode of inheritance at the Satellite locus. Here, we use linkage analysis to map the chromosomal location of the Faeder locus, which controls development into the Faeder morph, and draw further conclusions about candidate genes, assuming shared synteny with other birds.


Segregation data on the Faeder locus were obtained from captive-bred pedigrees comprising 64 multi-generation families (N = 381). There was no evidence that the Faeder locus was linked to the Satellite locus, but it was linked with microsatellite marker Ppu020. Comparative mapping of ruff microsatellite markers against the chicken (Gallus gallus) and zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) genomes places the Ppu020 and Faeder loci on a region of chromosome 11 that includes the Melanocortin-1 receptor (MC1R) gene, which regulates colour polymorphisms in numerous birds and other vertebrates. Melanin-based colouration varies with life-history strategies in ruffs and other species, thus the MC1R gene is a strong candidate to play a role in alternative male morph determination.


Two unlinked loci appear to control behavioural development in ruffs. The Faeder locus is linked to Ppu020, which, assuming synteny, is located on avian chromosome 11. MC1R is a candidate gene involved in alternative male morph determination in ruffs.