Correlations between heterozygosity and measures of genetic similarity: implications for understanding mate choice


S. Craig Roberts, School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK.
Tel.: +44 151 795 4514; fax: +44 151 795 4408;


There is currently considerable interest in testing the effects of genetic compatibility and heterozygosity on animal mate preferences. Evidence for either effect is rapidly accumulating, although results are not always clear-cut. However, correlations between mating preferences and either genetic similarity or heterozygosity are usually tested independently, and the possibility that similarity and heterozygosity may be confounded has rarely been taken into account. Here we show that measures of genetic similarity (allele sharing, relatedness) may be correlated with heterozygosity, using data from 441 human individuals genotyped at major loci in the major histocompatibility complex, and 281 peafowl (Pavo cristatus) individuals genotyped at 13 microsatellite loci. We show that average levels of allele sharing and relatedness are each significantly associated with heterozygosity in both humans and peafowl, that these relationships are influenced by the level of polymorphism, and that these similarity measures may correlate with heterozygosity in qualitatively different ways. We discuss the implications of these inter-relationships for interpretation of mate choice studies. It has recently become apparent that mating preferences for ‘good genes’ and ‘compatible genes’ may introduce discordant choice amongst individuals, since the optimal mate for one trait may not be optimal for the other, and our results are consistent with this idea. The inter-relationship between these measures of genetic quality also carries implications for the way in which mate choice studies are designed and interpreted, and generates predictions that can be tested in future research.