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Avian plumage traits are the targets of both natural and sexual selection. Consequently, genetic changes resulting in plumage variation among closely related taxa might represent important evolutionary events. The molecular basis of such differences, however, is unknown in most cases. Sequence variation in the melanocortin-1 receptor gene (MC1R) is associated with melanistic phenotypes in many vertebrate taxa, including several avian species. The blue-crowned manakin (Lepidothrix coronata), a widespread, sexually dichromatic passerine, exhibits striking geographic variation in male plumage colour across its range in southern Central America and western Amazonia. Northern males are black with brilliant blue crowns whereas southern males are green with lighter blue crowns. We sequenced 810 bp of the MC1R coding region in 23 individuals spanning the range of male plumage variation. The only variable sites we detected among L. coronata sequences were four synonymous substitutions, none of which were strictly associated with either plumage type. Similarly, comparative analyses showed that L. coronata sequences were monomorphic at the three amino acid sites hypothesized to be functionally important in other birds. These results demonstrate that genes other than MC1R underlie melanic plumage polymorphism in blue-crowned manakins. © 2006 The Royal Society.

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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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