Original Paper

Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 617-636

First online:

MHC-associated mating strategies and the importance of overall genetic diversity in an obligate pair-living primate

  • Nina SchwensowAffiliated withAnimal Ecology & Conservation, University of HamburgLeibniz-Institute for Zoo- and Wildlife Research (IZW)
  • , Joanna FietzAffiliated withExperimental Ecology, University of Ulm
  • , Kathrin DausmannAffiliated withAnimal Ecology & Conservation, University of Hamburg
  • , Simone SommerAffiliated withAnimal Ecology & Conservation, University of HamburgLeibniz-Institute for Zoo- and Wildlife Research (IZW) Email author 

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Mate choice is one of the most important evolutionary mechanisms. Females can improve their fitness by selectively mating with certain males. We studied possible genetic benefits in the obligate pair-living fat-tailed dwarf lemur (Cheirogaleus medius) which maintains life-long pair bonds but has an extremely high rate of extra-pair paternity. Possible mechanisms of female mate choice were investigated by analyzing overall genetic variability (neutral microsatellite marker) as well as a marker of adaptive significance (major histocompatibility complex, MHC-DRB exon 2). As in human medical studies, MHC-alleles were grouped to MHC-supertypes based on similarities in their functional important antigen binding sites. The study indicated that females preferred males both as social and as genetic fathers for their offspring having a higher number of MHC-alleles and MHC-supertypes, a lower overlap with female’s MHC-supertypes as well as a higher genome wide heterozygosity than randomly assigned males. Mutual relatedness had no influence on mate choice. Females engaged in extra-pair mating shared a significant higher number of MHC-supertypes with their social partner than faithful females. As no genetic differences between extra-pair young (EPY) and intra-pair young (IPY) were found, females might engage in extra-pair mating to ‘correct’ for genetic incompatibility. Thus, we found evidence that mate choice is predicted in the first place by the ‘good-genes-as-heterozygosity hypothesis’ whereas the occurrence of extra-pair matings supports the ‘dissassortative mating hypothesis’. To the best of our knowledge this study represents the first investigation of the potential roles of MHC-genes and overall genetic diversity in mate choice and extra-pair partner selection in a natural, free-living population of non-human primates.


Mate choice MHC class II Microsatellites Pair-living lemur Extra-pair partner Cheirogaleus medius Madagascar