Hitchhiking phenomena and genetic recombination have important consequences for a variety of fields for which birds are model species, yet we know virtually nothing about naturally occurring rates of recombination or the extent of linkage disequilibrium in birds. We took advantage of a previously sequenced cosmid clone from Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) bearing a highly polymorphic Mhc class II gene, Agph-DAB1, to measure the extent of linkage disequilibrium across ~40 kb of genomic DNA and to determine whether non-coding nucleotide diversity was elevated as a result of physical proximity to a target of balancing selection. Application of coalescent theory predicts that the hitchhiking effect is enhanced by the larger effective population size of blackbirds compared with humans, despite the presumably higher rates of recombination in birds. We surveyed sequence polymorphism at three Mhc-linked loci occurring 1·5–40 kb away from Agph-DAB1 and found that nucleotide diversity was indistinguishable from that found at three presumably unlinked, non-coding introns (β-actin intron 2, β-fibrinogen intron 7 and rhodopsin intron 2). Linkage disequilibrium as measured by Lewontin's D' was found only across a few hundred base pairs within any given locus, and was not detectable among any Mhc-linked loci. Estimated rates of the per site recombination rate ρ derived from three different analytical methods suggest that the amounts of recombination in blackbirds are up to two orders of magnitude higher than in humans, a discrepancy that cannot be explained entirely by the higher effective population size of blackbirds relative to humans. In addition, the ratio of the number of estimated recombination events per mutation frequently exceeds 1, as in Drosophila, again much higher than estimates in humans. Although the confidence limits of the blackbird estimates themselves span an order of magnitude, these data suggest that in blackbirds the hitchhiking effect for this region is negligible and may imply that the per site per individual recombination rate is high, resembling those of Drosophila more than those of humans.
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