, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 299-309

MHC Variability of a Small Lemur in the Littoral Forest Fragments of Southeastern Madagascar

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Habitat fragmentation inhibits gene flow between populations often resulting in a loss of genetic diversity with possible negative effects on fitness parameters. In vertebrates, growing evidence suggests that such genetic diversity is particularly important at the level of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) because its gene products play an important role in immune functions. Diversity in the MHC is assumed to improve population viability. Here, we investigated the impact of forest fragmentation on the genetic variability of one of the functionally important parts of the MHC, DRB exon 2, of the endemic mouse lemur Microcebus murinus by comparing populations inhabiting two littoral forest fragments of different size in southeastern Madagascar. Twelve different alleles of DRB exon 2 were found in 145 individuals of M. murinus with high levels of sequence divergence between alleles. In both subpopulations, levels of genetic diversity were high, and the genetic analyses revealed only limited effects of fragmentation. Significantly more non-synonymous than synonymous substitutions were found in the functionally important antigen recognition and binding sites indicating selection processes maintaining MHC polymorphism. This is the first study on MHC variation in a free-ranging Malagasy lemur population.