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Keywords:

  • compatible genes;
  • good genes;
  • melanin-based colours;
  • major histocompatibility complex;
  • pathogen resistance;
  • Salmonid

Abstract

Mating with attractive or dominant males is often predicted to offer indirect genetic benefits to females, but it is still largely unclear how important such non-random mating can be with regard to embryo viability. We sampled a natural population of adult migratory brown trout (Salmo trutta), bred them in vitro in a half-sib breeding design to separate genetic from maternal environmental effects, raised 2098 embryos singly until hatching, and exposed them experimentally to different levels of pathogen stress at a late embryonic stage. We found that the embryos’ tolerance to the induced pathogen stress was linked to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of their parents, i.e. certain MHC genotypes appeared to provide better protection against infection than others. We also found significant additive genetic variance for stress tolerance. Melanin-based dark skin patterns revealed males with ‘good genes’, i.e. embryos fathered by dark coloured males had a high tolerance to infection. Mating with large and dominant males would, however, not improve embryo viability when compared to random mating. We used simulations to provide estimates of how mate choice based on MHC or melanin-based skin patterns would influence embryos’ tolerance to the experimentally induced pathogen stress.