top of page

From Genes to Behavior


The evolution of behavior relies on changes at the level of the genome; yet the ability to attribute a behavioral change to a specific, naturally occurring genetic change is rare in vertebrates. In white-throated sparrows, a genetic polymorphism segregates with a behavioral phenotype. Males and females of the white-striped (WS) morph are heterozygous for a rearranged chromosome 2, called ZAL2m, and respond to a simulated territorial intrusion with high levels of aggressive singing. Birds of the tan-striped (TS) morph are homozygous for the standard arrangement (ZAL2) and respond with relatively little or no singing.  In addition to the difference in aggression, TS males engage in more parental behavior than WS males. Because of its association with aggressive and parental phenotypes, the ZAL2m chromosome represents a powerful target for studying the genes involved in these behaviors. 


Eric Ortlund


Emory University School of Medicine

Soojin Yi

Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology

University of California, Santa Barbara

Screen Shot 2020-12-17 at 4.25.06 PM.png

Photo by Jennifer Merritt

The white-striped (left) and tan-striped (right) morphs of the white-throated sparrow.

bottom of page