MHC-based patterns of social and extra-pair mate choice in the Seychelles warbler

David S Richardson, Jan Komdeur, Terry Burke, Torbjörn von Schantz

Abstract

The existence and nature of indirect genetic benefits to mate choice remain contentious. Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, which play a vital role in determining pathogen resistance in vertebrates, may be the link between mate choice and the genetic inheritance of vigour in offspring. Studies have shown that MHC-dependent mate choice can occur in mammal and fish species, but little work has focused on the role of the MHC in birds. We tested for MHC-dependent mating patterns in the Seychelles warbler (Acrocephalus sechellensis). There was no influence of MHC class I exon 3 variation on the choice of social mate. However, females were more likely to obtain extra-pair paternity (EPP) when their social mate had low MHC diversity, and the MHC diversity of the extra-pair male was significantly higher than that of the cuckolded male. There was no evidence that females were mating disassortatively, or that they preferred males with an intermediate number of MHC bands. Overall, the results are consistent with the ‘good genes’ rather than the ‘genetic compatibility’ hypothesis. As female choice will result in offspring of higher MHC diversity, MHC-dependent EPP may provide indirect benefits in the Seychelles warbler if survival is positively linked to MHC diversity.

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Footnotes

  • As this paper exceeds the maximum length normally permitted, the authors have agreed to contribute to production costs.

    • Received October 7, 2004.
    • Accepted November 24, 2004.
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