Promiscuous mother help offspring

Major histocompatibility genes affect a wild population mate choice

The major histocompatibilty (MHC) genes make molecules that enable many species including us, detect invading pathogens. MHC genes are therefore important for individuals choosing a mate. Evidence of MHC has been shown to affect mate choice in mice1, fish2 and even humans3 but has not been documented in the wild and has been understudied in birds4-5. Dr. Richardson’s talk revealed the affect of MHC’s on seychelle warblers.

Female seychelle warblers are shown to seek extra pair copulation, as offspring MHC gene diversity is highly correlated with their fathers6. Socially monogamous, seychelle warblers, on the Seychelles Cousin Island, are shown not to use MHC’s in pair bonding mate choice but extra pair paternities were MHC-dependant7. Males with higher MHC diversity were favoured with 40% of offspring produce from extra pair paternity6. Therefore seychelles warblers support “good genes” theory as heightened MHC diversity in offspring  were found more likely to survive, as individual’s survival and condition is affected by the diversity of their MHC genes; especially the presence of the Ase- ue4 gene which is thought to be associated with malaria8.

Richardson et al. wondered whether MHC’s were involved in pre and post-copulatory sexual selection. Using red junglefowl pre-copulatory choice caused males to allocate more sperm to MHC dissimilar females and post-copulatory choice through cryptic female choice caused male with similar MHC to gained more paternity9-10. Richardson’s recent research is on the role of pathogen exposure driving MHC variation using 12 island populations of berthelot’s pipit which are genetically different across islands and have different pathogen fauna11-12.

After looking at seychelle warbler’s interaction of MHC genes and mate choice, Richardson plans his next venture to look at the MHC diversity affects on mate choice in cape verde warblers13.


  1. Potts, W.K., Manning, C.J. & Wakeland, E.K. Nature 352, 619–621 (1991).
  2. Wedekind, C., Walker, M., Portmann, J., Cenni, B., Muller, R. & Binz, T. J. Evol. Biol17, 11–18 (2004).
  3. Ober, C.,Weitkamp, L. R., Cox,N., Dytch, H., Kostyu, D. & Elias, S. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 61, 497–504 (1997).
  4. Von Schantz, T., Wittzell, H., Goransson, G., Grahn, M. & Persson, K. Proc. R. Soc. B 263, 265–271 (1996).
  5. Von Schantz, T., Wittzell, H., Goransson, G. & Grahn, M. Hereditas 127, 133–140 (1997).
  6. Richardson, D.S., Jury, F.L., Blaakmeer, K., Komdeur, J. & Burke, T. Mol. Ecol. 10, 2263–2273 (2001).
  7. Richardson, D.S., Komdeur, J., Burke, T., & Von Schantz, T.  Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 272, 759–767 (2005).
  8. Brouwer et al. Submitted
  9. Gilingham, M.A.F., Richardson, D.S., Hanne L., Moyniham, A., Worley, K. & Pizzari, T. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B  276, 1083-1092 (2009)
  10. Worley et al. In prep
  11. Illera, J.C., Emerson B.C. & Richardson, D.S. Mol.  Ecol16, 4599-4612 (2007).
  12. Illera, J.C., Emerson, B.C. & Richardson, D.S. Parasitol. Res103, 1435-1443 (2008).
  13. Richardson, D.S. Personal communication (2010)