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Follow the Warbler

Variants in genes linked to novelty seeking may help birds cope with climate changes, New Scientist reports.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, collected genetic samples from yellow warblers from throughout their North American range. Warblers have already begun to experience local declines in population and are, in some regions, listed as a species of concern, the researchers note.

As the UCLA-led team reports in Science this week, it used restriction site–associated DNA sequencing to search for signals of selection within 229 yellow warblers from 21 locations. In an association analysis of 25 environmental variables linked to climate change, the researchers uncovered an associated SNP located upstream of two genes, DRD4 and DEAF1. Both DRD4 and DEAF1, the researchers note, have been previously linked with migration as well as with thrill seeking in both birds and people. These variants were least common among warblers living near the Rocky Mountains, which have already been affected by drought due to climate change, New Scientist notes.

"A critical next step will be to determine how broadly these findings apply to other species and communities, especially those that are highly threatened," add the University of Toronto Scarborough's Mark Fitzpatrick and Allan Edelsparre in an accompanying commentary. "Time is of the essence."