Disentangling the role of MHC-dependent ‘good genes’ and ‘compatible genes’ in mate choice decisions of three-spined sticklebacks under semi natural conditions


To investigate and disentangle the role of major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-based 'good genes' and 'compatible genes' in mate choice, three-spined sticklebacks Gasterosteus aculeatus with specific MHC IIB genotypes were allowed to reproduce in an outdoor enclosure system. Here, fish were protected from predators but encountered their natural parasites. Mate choice for an intermediate genetic distance between parental MHC genotypes was observed, which would result in intermediate diversity in the offspring, but no mate choice based on good genes was found under the current semi-natural conditions. Investigation of immunological variables revealed that the less-specific innate immune system was more active in individuals with a genetically more divergent MHC allele repertoire. This suggests the need to compensate for an MHC-diminished T-cell repertoire and potentially explains the observed mate choice for intermediate MHC genetic distance. The present findings support a general pattern of mate choice for intermediate MHC diversity (i.e. compatible genes). In addition, the potentially dynamic role of MHC good genes in mate choice under different parasite pressures is discussed in the light of present and previous results.