Influence of major histocompatibility complex genotype on mating success in a free-ranging reptile population

Hilary C Miller, Jennifer A Moore, Nicola J Nelson, Charles H Daugherty


Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are highly polymorphic components of the vertebrate immune system, which play a key role in pathogen resistance. MHC genes may also function as odour-related cues for mate choice, thus ensuring optimal MHC diversity in offspring. MHC-associated mate choice has been demonstrated in some fish, bird and mammal species but it is not known whether this is a general vertebrate phenomenon. We investigated whether MHC-associated mate choice occurs in a wild population of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), a territorial and sexually dimorphic reptile. We found weak evidence for MHC-disassortative mating, based on amino acid genotypic distance between pairs, when mated pairs were directly compared with potential pairs in close spatial proximity. No significant association was found between male mating success, number of MHC sequences, microsatellite heterozygosity or MHC lineage. The major determinant of mating success in tuatara was male body size, which was not related to MHC lineage or microsatellite heterozygosity. Our results suggest that male competitive ability is the primary driver of mating success in tuatara. However, MHC-associated preferences also appear to play a role, possibly as a kin avoidance mechanism during territory formation.



    • Received December 10, 2008.
    • Accepted January 13, 2009.
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