Evol Ecol Res 11: 1085-1097 (2009)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

Number of MHC alleles is related to parasite loads in natural populations of yellow necked mice, Apodemus flavicollis

Y. Meyer-Lucht* and S. Sommer*

Department of Animal Ecology and Conservation, University of Hamburg, Hamburg, Germany

Corresponding author: S. Sommer. e-mail: sommer@izw-berlin.de


Hypothesis: Low levels of immune gene variation (major histocompatibility complex) in a population are associated with increased parasite load and infection intensity.

Organism: Different populations of the yellow necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis), a common rodent in European deciduous and mixed forest habitats

Methods: We assessed genetic diversity at selectively neutral, non-coding markers (microsatellites) and adaptive genetic variation at a functionally important part of the immune complex MHC (major histocompatibility complex). We investigated the load with gastrointestinal parasites non-invasively by faecal egg counts and assessed the influence of population genetic variation on parasite burden.

Results: Both neutral and adaptive genetic diversity differed between mice populations. We could not detect an effect of neutral genetic diversity on the parasite burden in a population. Heterozygosity at the MHC did not reveal an effect on the parasite burden either. However, we did identify significant effects of the number of different MHC alleles in a population on parasite burden. Mice populations with a large number of different MHC alleles displayed lower parasite loads than those populations with few different MHC alleles.

Keywords: Apodemus flavicollis, gastrointestinal nematodes, genetic variability, major histocompatibility complex, microsatellites, Muridae.

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