, Volume 138, Issue 6, pp 657-665

First online:

Are large wattles related to particular MHC genotypes in the male pheasant?

  • Mariella BarattiAffiliated withInstitute for Ecosystem Study, C.N.R. Email author 
  • , Martina AmmannatiAffiliated withDepartment of Evolutionary Biology “L. Pardi”, University of Florence
  • , Claudia MagnelliAffiliated withDepartment of Evolutionary Biology “L. Pardi”, University of Florence
  • , Alessandro MassoloAffiliated withDepartment of Ecosystem and Public Health, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary
  • , Francesco Dessì-FulgheriAffiliated withDepartment of Evolutionary Biology “L. Pardi”, University of Florence

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In sexually dimorphic species, partners can assess heritable mate quality by analyzing costly sexual ornaments in terms of their dimension and possibly of their symmetry. In vertebrates an important aspect of genetic quality is the efficiency of the immune system, and in particular the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC). If ornaments are honest advertisements of pathogen resistance (good genes), in line with the Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis, a correlation between ornament expression and MHC profiles should exist. We tested this hypothesis in the common pheasant Phasianus colchicus by comparing male ornament characteristics (wattle and spur size, and wattle fluctuating asymmetry) with a portion of exon 2 of the class IIB MHC genes containing 19 putative antigen recognition sites. A total of 8 new alleles was observed in the MHCPhco exon IIB. We found significant differences in the occurrence of MHC genotypes between males carrying large or small wattles. Homozygous genotypes predicted large wattle males more correctly than small wattle males. The association between the dimension of the spur and the occurrence of MHC genotypes was marginally significant, however, we did not find any significant association between MHC genotypes and asymmetry. Our results suggest that female pheasants may use the ornament size as a cue to evaluate male quality and thus choose males carrying particular MHC profiles.


CE-SSCP Good genes Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis MHC Ornaments Symmetry