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Data from: Sexual selection and the evolution of the Major Histocompatibility Complex

Cite this dataset

Ejsmond, Maciej Jan; Radwan, Jacek; Wilson, Anthony B. (2014). Data from: Sexual selection and the evolution of the Major Histocompatibility Complex [Dataset]. Dryad.


The genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are a key component of the adaptive immune system and among the most variable loci in the vertebrate genome. Pathogen-mediated natural selection and MHC-based disassortative mating are both thought to structure MHC polymorphism, but their effects have proven difficult to discriminate in natural systems. Using the first model of MHC dynamics incorporating both survival and reproduction, we demonstrate that natural and sexual selection produce distinctive signatures of MHC allelic diversity with critical implications for understanding host–pathogen dynamics. While natural selection produces the Red Queen dynamics characteristic of host–parasite interactions, disassortative mating stabilizes allele frequencies, damping major fluctuations in dominant alleles and protecting functional variants against drift. This subtle difference generates a complex interaction between MHC allelic diversity and population size. In small populations, the stabilizing effects of sexual selection moderate the effects of drift, whereas pathogen-mediated selection accelerates the loss of functionally important genetic diversity. Natural selection enhances MHC allelic variation in larger populations, with the highest levels of diversity generated by the combined action of pathogen-mediated selection and disassortative mating. MHC-based sexual selection may help to explain how functionally important genetic variation can be maintained in populations of conservation concern.

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