Major histocompatibility complex variation and mate choice in a lekking bird, the great snipe (Gallinago media)


Robert Ekblom, Fax: +46–(0)18 4716424; E-mail:


Genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) play a major part in the activation of the vertebrate immune system. In addition, they also appear to function as cues for mate choice. In mammals especially, several kinds of MHC-dependent mate choice have been hypothesized and observed. These include choice of mates that share no or few alleles with the choosing individual, choice of mates with alleles that differ as much as possible from the choosing individual, choice of heterozygous mates, choice of certain genotypes and choice of rare alleles. We investigated these different aspects of mate choice in relation to MHC in a lekking bird species, the great snipe (Gallinago media). We found no evidence for MHC disassortative mating, no preference for males with many MHC alleles and no preference for rare alleles. However, we did find that some allelic lineages were more often found in males with mating success than in males without mating success. Females do not seem to use themselves as references for the MHC-dependent mate choice, rather they seem to prefer males with certain allele types. We speculate that these alleles may be linked to resistance to common parasites.