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Females tend to prefer genetically similar mates in an island population of house sparrows

Coraline Bichet1*, Dustin J Penn2, Yoshan Moodley2, Luc Dunoyer1, Elise Cellier-Holzem1, Marie Belvalette1, Arnaud Grégoire3, Stéphane Garnier1 and Gabriele Sorci1

Author Affiliations

1 Biogéosciences, UMR CNRS 6282, Université de Bourgogne, 6 Boulevard Gabriel, 21000 Dijon, France

2 Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution, University of Veterinary Medicine, Savoyenstr 1a, Vienna A-1160, Vienna, Austria

3 CEFE, UMR-CNRS 5175, Université de Montpellier 2, 1919 route de Mende, 34293 Montpellier, France

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-47

Published: 12 March 2014



It is often proposed that females should select genetically dissimilar mates to maximize offspring genetic diversity and avoid inbreeding. Several recent studies have provided mixed evidence, however, and in some instances females seem to prefer genetically similar males. A preference for genetically similar mates can be adaptive if outbreeding depression is more harmful than inbreeding depression or if females gain inclusive fitness benefits by mating with close kin. Here, we investigated genetic compatibility and mating patterns in an insular population of house sparrow (Passer domesticus), over a three-year period, using 12 microsatellite markers and one major histocompability complex (MHC) class I gene. Given the small population size and the distance from the mainland, we expected a reduced gene flow in this insular population and we predicted that females would show mating preferences for genetically dissimilar mates.


Contrary to our expectation, we found that offspring were less genetically diverse (multi-locus heterozygosity) than expected under a random mating, suggesting that females tended to mate with genetically similar males. We found high levels of extra-pair paternity, and offspring sired by extra-pair males had a better fledging success than those sired by the social male. Again, unexpectedly, females tended to be more closely related to extra-pair mates than to their social mates. Our results did not depend on the type of genetic marker used, since microsatellites and MHC genes provided similar results, and we found only little evidence for MHC-dependent mating patterns.


These results are in agreement with the idea that mating with genetically similar mates can either avoid the disruption of co-adapted genes or confer a benefit in terms of kin selection.

Sexual selection; Mate choice; Passer domesticus; Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC); Microsatellites; Extra-pair paternity