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Cite this dataset

Lipshutz, Sara et al. (2022). ZEFI-PTR-G-ThermalChallenge [Dataset]. Dryad.


In a rapidly warming world, exposure to high temperatures may impact fitness, but the gene regulatory mechanisms that link sublethal heat to sexually selected traits are not well understood, particularly in endothermic animals. Our experiment used zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), songbirds that experience extreme temperature fluctuations in their native Australia. We exposed captive males to an acute thermal challenge (43°C) compared with thermoneutral (35°C) and lower (27°C) temperatures. We found significantly more heat dissipation behaviors at 43°C, a temperature previously shown to reduce song production and fertility, and more heat retention behaviors at 27°C. Next, we characterized transcriptomic responses in tissues important for mating effort – the posterior telencephalon, for its role in song production, and the testis, for its role in fertility and hormone production. Differential expression of hundreds of genes in the testes, but few in the brain, suggest the brain is less responsive to extreme temperatures. Nevertheless, gene network analyses revealed that expression related to dopaminergic signaling in the brain co-varied with heat dissipation behaviors, providing a mechanism by which temporary thermal challenges may alter motivational circuits for song production. In both brain and testis, we also observed correlations between thermally sensitive gene networks and individual differences in thermoregulatory behavior. Although we cannot directly relate these gene regulatory changes to mating success, our results suggest that individual variation in response to thermal challenges could impact sexually selected traits in a warming world.


Two tissues (posterior telencephalon and testis) were collected from 24 male zebra finches exposed to temperatures above (Ta = 43°C), within (Ta = 35°C), or below their thermoneutral zone (Ta = 27°C); total RNA was extracted and run on a Nextseq platform. 

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National Science Foundation, Award: DBI-1907134

National Science Foundation, Award: IOS-2032412