MHC genotype predicts mate choice in the ring-necked pheasant Phasianus colchicus


Mariella Baratti, Istituto per lo Studio degli Ecosistemi, CNR, via Madonna del Piano 10, I-50019 Sesto Fiorentino, FI, Italy.
Tel.: +39 55 5225986; fax: +39 55 5225920; e-mail:


Females of several vertebrate species selectively mate with males on the basis of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes. As androgen-mediated maternal effects have long-lasting consequences for the adult phenotype, both mating and reproductive success may depend on the combined effect of MHC genotype and exposure to androgens during early ontogeny. We studied how MHC-based mate choice in ring-necked pheasants (Phasianus colchicus) was influenced by an experimental in ovo testosterone (T) increase. There was no conclusive evidence of in ovo T treatment differentially affecting mate choice in relation to MHC genotype. However, females avoided mating with males with a wholly different MHC genotype compared with males sharing at least one MHC allele. Females also tended to avoid mating with MHC-identical males, though not significantly so. These findings suggest that female pheasants preferred males with intermediate MHC dissimilarity. Male MHC heterozygosity or diversity did not predict the expression of ornaments or male dominance rank. Thus, MHC-based mating preferences in the ring-necked pheasant do not seem to be mediated by ornaments’ expression and may have evolved mainly to reduce the costs of high heterozygosity at MHC loci for the progeny, such as increased risk of autoimmune diseases or disruption of coadapted gene pools.