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Research article2012Peer reviewedOpen access

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

Strandh, Maria; Westerdahl, Helena; Pontarp, Mikael; Canbäck, Björn; Dubois, Marie-Pierre; Miquel, Christian; Taberlet, Pierre; Bonadonna, Francesco


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.


major histocompatibility complex; MHC class I; MHC class II B; 454-pyrosequencing; genetic compatibility

Published in

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
2012, Volume: 279, number: 1746, pages: 4457-4463
Publisher: ROYAL SOC

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Evolutionary Biology
    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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