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Major histocompatibility complex class II compatibility, but not class I, predicts mate choice in a bird with highly developed olfaction.

  • Maria Strandh
  • Helena Westerdahl
  • Mikael Pontarp
  • Björn Canbäck
  • Marie-Pierre Dubois
  • Christian Miquel
  • Pierre Taberlet
  • Francesco Bonadonna
Publishing year: 2012
Language: English
Pages: 4457-4463
Publication/Series: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume: 279
Issue: 1746
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: Royal Society

Abstract english

Mate choice for major histocompatibility complex (MHC) compatibility has been found in several taxa, although rarely in birds. MHC is a crucial component in adaptive immunity and by choosing an MHC-dissimilar partner, heterozygosity and potentially broad pathogen resistance is maximized in the offspring. The MHC genotype influences odour cues and preferences in mammals and fish and hence olfactory-based mate choice can occur. We tested whether blue petrels, Halobaena caerulea, choose partners based on MHC compatibility. This bird is long-lived, monogamous and can discriminate between individual odours using olfaction, which makes it exceptionally well suited for this analysis. We screened MHC class I and II B alleles in blue petrels using 454-pyrosequencing and quantified the phylogenetic, functional and allele-sharing similarity between individuals. Partners were functionally more dissimilar at the MHC class II B loci than expected from random mating (p = 0.033), whereas there was no such difference at the MHC class I loci. Phylogenetic and non-sequence-based MHC allele-sharing measures detected no MHC dissimilarity between partners for either MHC class I or II B. Our study provides evidence of mate choice for MHC compatibility in a bird with a high dependency on odour cues, suggesting that MHC odour-mediated mate choice occurs in birds.


  • Biological Sciences
  • major histocompatibility complex
  • MHC class I
  • MHC class II B
  • 454-pyrosequencing
  • genetic compatibility


  • Avian MHC genes
  • Molecular Ecology and Evolution Lab
  • ISSN: 1471-2954
Mikael Pontarp
E-mail: mikael [dot] pontarp [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se


Evolutionary ecology

Sölvegatn 37, Lund