Three strikingly different alternative male mating morphs (aggressive 'independents', semicooperative 'satellites' and female-mimic 'faeders') coexist as a balanced polymorphism in the ruff, Philomachus pugnax, a lek-breeding wading bird. Major differences in body size, ornamentation, and aggressive and mating behaviors are inherited as an autosomal polymorphism. We show that development into satellites and faeders is determined by a supergene consisting of divergent alternative, dominant and non-recombining haplotypes of an inversion on chromosome 11, which contains 125 predicted genes. Independents are homozygous for the ancestral sequence. One breakpoint of the inversion disrupts the essential CENP-N gene (encoding centromere protein N), and pedigree analysis confirms the lethality of homozygosity for the inversion. We describe new differences in behavior, testis size and steroid metabolism among morphs and identify polymorphic genes within the inversion that are likely to contribute to the differences among morphs in reproductive traits.
Journal: Nature genetics