A quantitative review of MHC-based mating preference: the role of diversity and dissimilarity

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


Sexual selection hypotheses stipulate that the major histocompatibility complex genes (MHC) constitute a key molecular underpinning for mate choice in vertebrates. The last four decades saw growing empirical literature on the role of MHC diversity and dissimilarity in mate choice for a wide range of vertebrate animals, but with mixed support for its significance in natural populations. Using formal phylogenetic meta-analysis and meta-regression techniques, we quantitatively review the existing literature on MHC-dependent mating preferences in nonhuman vertebrates with a focus on the role of MHC diversity and dissimilarity. Overall, we found small, statistically nonsignificant, average effect sizes for both diversity- and dissimilarity-based mate choice (r=0.113 and 0.064, respectively). Importantly, however, meta-regression models revealed statistically significant support regarding female choice for diversity, and choice for dissimilarity (regardless of choosy sex) only when dissimilarity is characterized across multiple loci. Little difference was found among vertebrate taxa; however, the lack of statistical power meant statistically significant effects were limited to some taxa. We found little sign of publication bias; thus, our results are likely to be robust. In light of our quantitative assessment, methodological improvements and fruitful future avenues of research are highlighted.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Biological Sciences


  • genetic compatibility, mate choice, meta-analysis, meta-regression, MHC, diversity, the major histocompatibility complex
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5151-5163
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number21
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch

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