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Open Access Research article

Good vs complementary genes for parasite resistance and the evolution of mate choice

R Stephen Howard1* and Curtis M Lively2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Biology, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN 37132, USA

2 Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405-3700, USA

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2004, 4:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-4-48

Published: 19 November 2004

Abstract

Background

Female mate choice may be adaptive when males exhibit heritable genetic variation at loci encoding resistance to infectious disease. The Hamilton-Zuk hypothesis predicts that females should assess the genetic quality of males by monitoring traits that indicate health and vigor (condition-dependent choice, or CD). Alternatively, some females may employ a more direct method of screening and select mates based on the dissimilarity of alleles at the major histocompatibility loci (we refer to this as opposites-attract, or OA). Empirical studies suggest that both forms of mate choice exist, but little is known about the potential for natural selection to shape the two strategies in nature.

Results

We used computer simulation models to examine the evolutionary fates of the two forms of mate choice in populations at risk for infection by debilitating parasites. We found that populations exhibiting random mating (no mate choice) can be invaded and replaced completely by individuals practicing CD type mate choice. We also found that an allele encoding OA choice can increase when rare in randomly mating populations, but that it does not go to fixation under selection. A similar result was obtained when the OA strategy was introduced into populations practicing CD mate choice. As before, we found that the OA choice allele will increase when rare, and that it will not go to fixation under selection. The converse however was not true, as CD individuals gain no rare advantage when introduced into an OA population.

Conclusions

Taken together, the results suggest that, when rare, OA is the best strategy for parasite evasion (of those considered here). The consequence of OA increasing in the population, however, is to reduce the parasite driven genotype oscillations and facilitate the breakdown of linkage disequilibrium at the disease-resistance loci. This leads to a neutrally stable situation in which different strategies have equal fitness, and suggests that multiple forms of mate choice may be expected to occur in populations at risk from infectious disease.