Bird migration is one of the most spectacular and best-studied phenomena in behavioural biology. Yet, while the patterns of variation in migratory behaviour and its ecological causes have been intensively studied, its genetic, physiological and neurological control remains poorly understood. The lack of knowledge of the molecular basis of migration is currently not only limiting our insight into the proximate control of migration, but also into its evolution. We investigated polymorphisms in the exons of six candidate genes for key behavioural traits potentially linked to migration, which had previously been identified in several bird species, and eight control loci in 14 populations of blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla), representing the whole range of geographical variation in migration patterns found in this species, with the aim of identifying genes controlling variation in migration. We found a consistent association between a microsatellite polymorphism and migratory behaviour only at one candidate locus: the ADCYAP1 gene. This polymorphism explained about 2.6 per cent of the variation in migratory tendency among populations, and 2.7–3.5% of variation in migratory restlessness among individuals within two independent populations. In all tests, longer alleles were associated with higher migratory activity. The consistency of results among different populations and levels of analysis suggests that ADCYAP1 is one of the genes controlling the expression of migratory behaviour. Moreover, the multiple described functions of the gene product indicate that this gene might act at multiple levels modifying the shift between migratory and non-migratory states
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