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Proc Biol Sci. 2005 Apr 7;272(1564):759-67.

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

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  • 1Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK.


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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