Fine-tuning of seasonal timing of breeding is regulated downstream in the underlying neuro-endocrine system in a small songbird

Irene Verhagen*, Veronika N. Laine, A.C. Mateman, Agata Pijl, Ruben de Wit, Bart van Lith, Willem Kamphuis, Heidi M. Viitaniemi, Tony D. Williams, Samuel P. Caro, Simone L. Meddle, Phillip Gienapp, Kees van Oers, Marcel E. Visser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The timing of breeding is under selection in wild populations as a result of climate change, and understanding the underlying physiological processes mediating this timing provides insight into the potential rate of adaptation. Current knowledge on this variation in physiology is, however, mostly limited to males. We assessed whether individual differences in the timing of breeding in females are reflected in differences in candidate gene expression and, if so, whether these differences occur in the upstream (hypothalamus) or downstream (ovary and liver) parts of the neuroendocrine system. We used 72 female great tits from two generations of lines artificially selected for early and late egg laying, which were housed in climate-controlled aviaries and went through two breeding cycles within 1 year. In the first breeding season we obtained individual egg-laying dates, while in the second breeding season, using the same individuals, we sampled several tissues at three time points based on the timing of the first breeding attempt. For each tissue, mRNA expression levels were measured using qPCR for a set of candidate genes associated with the timing of reproduction and subsequently analysed for differences between generations, time points and individual timing of breeding. We found differences in gene expression between generations in all tissues, with the most pronounced differences in the hypothalamus. Differences between time points, and early- and late-laying females, were found exclusively in the ovary and liver. Altogether, we show that fine-tuning of the seasonal timing of breeding, and thereby the opportunity for adaptation in the neuroendocrine system, is regulated mostly downstream in the neuro-endocrine system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjeb202481
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Volume222
Issue number17
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2019
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Gene expression
  • Individual variation
  • Parus major
  • QPCR
  • Reproductive timing

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