Understanding the loss of maternal care in avian brood parasites using preoptic area transcriptome comparisons in brood parasitic and non-parasitic blackbirds

Kathleen S. Lynch, Lauren A. O’Connell, Matthew I.M. Louder, Christopher N. Balakrishnan, Eva K. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Parental care is critical for offspring survival in many species. However, parental behaviors have been lost in roughly 1% of avian species known as the obligate brood parasites. To shed light on molecular and neurobiological mechanisms mediating brood parasitic behavior, we compared brain gene expression patterns between two brood parasitic species and one closely related non-parasitic Icterid (blackbird) species. Our analyses focused on gene expression changes specifically in the preoptic area (POA), a brain region known to play a critical role in parental behavior across vertebrates. Using comparative transcriptomic approaches, we identified gene expression patterns associated with brood parasitism. We evaluated three non-mutually exclusive alternatives for the evolution of brood parasitism: (1) retention of juvenile-like (neotenic) gene expression, (2) reduced expression of maternal care-related genes in the POA, and/or (3) increased expression of genes inhibiting maternal care. We find evidence for neotenic expression patterns in both species of parasitic cowbirds as compared to maternal, non-parasites. In addition, we observed differential expression in a number of genes with previously established roles in mediating maternal care. Together, these results provide the first insight into transcriptomic and genetic mechanisms underlying the loss of maternal behavior in avian brood parasites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1075-1084
Number of pages10
JournalG3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics
Volume9
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Brood parasitism
  • Maternal behavior
  • Neoteny
  • Preoptic area
  • Transcriptome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)

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