Head crests are important display structures in wild bird species and are also common in domesticated lineages. Many breeds of domestic rock pigeon (Columba livia) have crests of reversed occipital feathers, and this recessive trait is associated with a nonsynonymous coding mutation in the intracellular kinase domain of EphB2 (Ephrin receptor B2). The domestic ringneck dove (Streptopelia risoria) also has a recessive crested morph with reversed occipital feathers, and interspecific crosses between crested doves and pigeons produce crested offspring, suggesting a similar genetic basis for this trait in both species. We therefore investigated EphB2 as a candidate for the head crest phenotype of ringneck doves and identified a nonsynonymous coding mutation in the intracellular kinase domain that is significantly associated with the crested morph. This mutation is over 100 amino acid positions away from the crest mutation found in rock pigeons, yet both mutations are predicted to negatively affect the function of ATP-binding pocket. Furthermore, bacterial toxicity assays suggest that "crest" mutations in both species severely impact kinase activity. We conclude that head crests are associated with different mutations in the same functional domain of the same gene in two different columbid species, thereby representing striking evolutionary convergence in morphology and molecules.
Keywords: EphB2; avian; convergence; evolution; feathers; head crest.
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