MHC-mediated mate choice increases parasite resistance in salmon

Sofia Consuegra Del Olmo, Carlos Garcia de Leaniz

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Natural (parasite-driven) and sexual selection are thought to maintain high polymorphism in the genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), but support for a link between mate choice, MHC variation and increased parasite resistance is circumstantial. We compared MHC diversity and Anisakis loads among anadromous Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.) returning to four rivers to spawn, which had originated from natural spawning (parents allowed to mate freely) or artificial crosses (parents deprived from the potential benefits of mate choice). We found that the offspring of artificially bred salmon had higher parasite loads and were almost four times more likely to be infected than free-mating salmon, despite having similar levels of MHC diversity. Moreover, the offspring of wild salmon were more MHC dissimilar than the offspring of artificially crossed salmon, and uninfected fish were more dissimilar for MHC than infected fish. Thus, our results suggest a link between disassortative mating and offspring benefits and indicate that MHC-mediated mate choice and natural (parasite-driven) selection act in combination to maintain MHC diversity, and hence fitness. Therefore, artificial breeding programmes that negate the potential genetic benefits of mate choice may result in inherently inferior offspring, regardless of population size, rearing conditions or genetic diversity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1403
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1641
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2008


  • major histocompatibility complex
  • mate choice
  • good genes
  • compatible genes
  • parasite resistance
  • salmon


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