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Proc Biol Sci. 1996 Mar 22;263(1368):265-71.

MHC genotype and male ornamentation: genetic evidence for the Hamilton-Zuk model.

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  • 1Department of Animal Ecology, Lund University, Sweden.


The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is an immunologically important cluster of highly variable genes that is known to affect fitness in domesticated mammals and birds. Spur length of male pheasants in southern Sweden correlates with male viability, female mate choice, and offspring survival rate. Here we show by genetic analyses that the MHC genotype is associated with variation in both male spur length and male viability. These are the first data that directly support a 'good genes' hypothesis by Hamilton and Zuk predicting that females discriminate among males on the basis of secondary sexual characters in order to pass on genes for disease resistance that improve fitness in their offspring.

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