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Odour-based discrimination of similarity at the major histocompatibility complex in birds

  • Sarah Leclaire
  • Maria Strandh
  • Jérôme Mardon
  • Helena Westerdahl
  • Francesco Bonadonna
Publishing year: 2017-01-11
Language: English
Publication/Series: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume: 284
Issue: 1846
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

Many animals are known to preferentially mate with partners that are dissimilar at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in order to maximize the antigen binding repertoire (or disease resistance) in their offspring. Although several mammals, fish or lizards use odour cues to assessMHCsimilarity with potential partners, the ability of birds to assessMHC similarity using olfactory cues has not yet been explored. Here we used a behavioural binary choice test and high-throughput-sequencing of MHC class IIB to determine whether blue petrels can discriminate MHC similarity based on odour cues alone. Blue petrels are seabirds with particularly good sense of smell, they have a reciprocal mate choice and are known to preferentially mate withMHC-dissimilar partners. Incubating males preferentially approached the odour of the more MHC-dissimilar female, whereas incubating females showed opposite preferences. Given their mating pattern, females were, however, expected to show preference for the odour of the more MHC-dissimilar male. Further studies are needed to determine whether, as in women and female mice, the preference varies with the reproductive cycle in blue petrel females. Our results provide the first evidence that birds can use odour cues only to assess MHC dissimilarity


  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Blue petrels
  • Major histocompatibility complex
  • Mate choice
  • Scent


  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 0962-8452
Helena Westerdahl
E-mail: helena [dot] westerdahl [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer


+46 46 222 36 69



Research group

Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab


Doctoral students and postdocs

Research fellows


Luz Garcia-Longoria

PhD students, main supervisor

Samantha Mellinger

PhD students, assistant supervisor

Gustaf Ekelund Ugge

Helena Westerdahl w house sparrow