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Avian MHC copy number variation is associated with helminth richness

Citation

Minias, Piotr; Gutiérrez, Jorge; Dunn, Peter (2020), Avian MHC copy number variation is associated with helminth richness, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.gf1vhhmkj

Abstract

Genes of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) play a key role in the adaptive immunity of vertebrates, as they encode receptors responsible for recognition of antigens. Evolutionary history of the MHC proceeded through numerous gene duplications, which increases the spectrum of pathogens recognized by individuals. Although pathogen-mediated selection is believed to be a primary driver of MHC expansion over evolutionary times, empirical evidence for this association is virtually lacking. Here, we used an extensive dataset on MHC class II copy number variation in non-passerine birds to test for an evolutionary correlation with helminth parasite richness. As expected, our phylogenetically-informed modelling revealed a positive association between MHC copy number and total helminth richness, even after controlling for a broad spectrum of ecological and life-history traits. Thus, total helminth richness appears to be the most important correlate of MHC copy number, supporting a leading role of pathogen-mediated selection in the evolution of MHC in birds. Our results provide some of the first, although correlative, evidence linking parasitism to inter-specific variation in MHC copy number among birds.

Funding

National Science Centre in Poland, Award: 2015/19/D/NZ8/01310

Government of Extremadura, Award: TA18001

National Science Centre in Poland, Award: 2015/19/D/NZ8/01310

Government of Extremadura, Award: TA18001