Chemical composition of preen wax reflects major histocompatibility complex similarity in songbirds.
ABSTRACT: In jawed vertebrates, genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) play a key role in immunity by encoding cell-surface proteins that recognize and bind non-self antigens. High variability at MHC suggests that these loci may also function in social signalling such as mate choice and kin recognition. This requires that MHC genotype covaries with some perceptible phenotypic trait. In mammals and fish, MHC is signalled chemically through volatile and non-volatile peptide odour cues, facilitating MHC-dependent mate choice and other behaviours. In birds, despite evidence for MHC-dependent mating, candidate mechanisms for MHC signalling remain largely unexplored. However, feather preen wax has recently been implicated as a potential source of odour cues. We examined whether the chemical composition of preen wax correlates with MHC class II? genotypes of wild song sparrows (Melospiza melodia). Pairwise chemical distance reflected amino acid distance at MHC for male-female dyads, although not for same-sex dyads. Chemical diversity did not reflect MHC diversity. We used gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to characterize preen wax compounds, and identified four wax esters that best reflect MHC similarity. Provided songbirds can detect variation in preen wax composition, this cue may allow individuals to assess MHC compatibility of potential mates.
Project description:Animals are known to select mates to maximize the genetic diversity of their offspring in order to achieve immunity against a broader range of pathogens. Although several bird species preferentially mate with partners that are dissimilar at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), it remains unknown whether they can use olfactory cues to assess MHC similarity with potential partners. Here we combined gas chromatography data with genetic similarity indices based on MHC to test whether similarity in preen secretion chemicals correlated with MHC relatedness in the black-legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla), a species that preferentially mates with genetically dissimilar partners. We found that similarity in preen secretion chemicals was positively correlated with MHC relatedness in male-male and male-female dyads. This study provides the first evidence that preen secretion chemicals can encode information on MHC relatedness and suggests that odor-based mechanisms of MHC-related mate choice may occur in birds.
Project description:Chemical signaling has been documented in many animals, but its potential importance in avian species, particularly songbirds, has received far less attention. We tested whether volatile compounds in the preen oil of a songbird (Junco hyemalis) contain reliable information about individual identity, sex, or population of origin by repeated sampling from captive male and female juncos originating from 2 recently diverged junco populations in southern California. One of the populations recently colonized an urban environment; the other resides in a species-typical montane environment. The birds were field-caught as juveniles, housed under identical conditions, and fed the same diet for 10 months prior to sampling. We used capillary gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to quantify the relative abundance of 19 volatile compounds previously shown to vary seasonally in this species. We found individual repeatability as well as significant sex and population differences in volatile profiles. The persistence of population differences in a common environment suggests that preen oil chemistry likely has a genetic basis and may thus evolve rapidly in response to environmental change. These finding suggest that songbird preen oil odors have the potential to function as chemosignals associated with mate recognition or reproductive isolation.
Project description:The preen gland produces oily secretion, which smeared onto a bird's plumage improves its maintenance. The main components of the secretion are waxes, and its composition often changes during the year. The aim of this study was to determine the differences in the chemical composition of preen waxes in adult herring gulls Larus argentatus, captured in Poland in winter and in the breeding season. Preen gland secretions of herring gulls consist of monoester waxes, composed of about 29 saturated C7-C16 fatty acids and about 51 saturated C11-C20 alcohols. Unbranched-octanoic acid and n-hexadecanol dominated fatty acid and alcohol fractions, respectively, but 2-methyl-branched compounds were numerous in all individuals. The chemical compositions of fatty acids and alcohols differ between winter and the breeding season. In breeding gulls, 2-monomethyl-branched fatty acids were lower in content or could not be found, contrary to herring gulls in winter, where 2-monomethyl-substituted fatty acids were the second most abundant among all the fatty acids. Breeding gulls had also a higher content of n-octanoic acid and n-hexadecanol and a lower content of 2,6- and 2,8-dimethyl-substituted fatty acids than individuals caught during the winter. Differences in fatty acid composition were greater in breeding males, which incubate more often at night than breeding females. Hence, chemical changes in the preen wax composition in males may have evolved as additional nocturnal protection against mammalian predators which use olfaction to detect their prey and which are more active at night; however, this needs to be tested. Olfactory-based mate recognition in the colony also cannot be excluded at this stage of experimentation.
Project description:The products of the genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) are known to be drivers of pathogen resistance and sexual selection enhancing offspring genetic diversity. The MHC further influences individual odour types and social communication. However, little is known about the receptors and their volatile ligands that are involved in this type of chemical communication. Here, we have investigated chemosensory receptor genes that ultimately enable females to assess male genes through odour cues. As a model, we used an invasive population of North American raccoons ( Procyon lotor) in Germany. We investigated the effect of two groups of chemosensory receptor genes-trace amine-associated receptors (TAARs) and olfactory receptors (ORs)-on MHC-dependent mate choice. Females with more alleles of the TAAR or OR loci were more likely to choose a male with a diverse MHC. We additionally found that MHC class I genes have a stronger effect on mate choice than the recently reported effect for MHC class II genes, probably because of their immunological relevance for viral resistance. Our study is among the first to show a genetic link between behaviour and chemosensory receptor genes. These results contribute to understanding the link between genetics, olfaction and associated life-history decisions.
Project description:Many animals are known to preferentially mate with partners that are dissimilar at the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) in order to maximize the antigen binding repertoire (or disease resistance) in their offspring. Although several mammals, fish or lizards use odour cues to assess MHC similarity with potential partners, the ability of birds to assess MHC similarity using olfactory cues has not yet been explored. Here we used a behavioural binary choice test and high-throughput-sequencing of MHC class IIB to determine whether blue petrels can discriminate MHC similarity based on odour cues alone. Blue petrels are seabirds with particularly good sense of smell, they have a reciprocal mate choice and are known to preferentially mate with MHC-dissimilar partners. Incubating males preferentially approached the odour of the more MHC-dissimilar female, whereas incubating females showed opposite preferences. Given their mating pattern, females were, however, expected to show preference for the odour of the more MHC-dissimilar male. Further studies are needed to determine whether, as in women and female mice, the preference varies with the reproductive cycle in blue petrel females. Our results provide the first evidence that birds can use odour cues only to assess MHC dissimilarity.
Project description:Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes are highly polymorphic components of the vertebrate immune system, which play a key role in pathogen resistance. MHC genes may also function as odour-related cues for mate choice, thus ensuring optimal MHC diversity in offspring. MHC-associated mate choice has been demonstrated in some fish, bird and mammal species but it is not known whether this is a general vertebrate phenomenon. We investigated whether MHC-associated mate choice occurs in a wild population of tuatara (Sphenodon punctatus), a territorial and sexually dimorphic reptile. We found weak evidence for MHC-disassortative mating, based on amino acid genotypic distance between pairs, when mated pairs were directly compared with potential pairs in close spatial proximity. No significant association was found between male mating success, number of MHC sequences, microsatellite heterozygosity or MHC lineage. The major determinant of mating success in tuatara was male body size, which was not related to MHC lineage or microsatellite heterozygosity. Our results suggest that male competitive ability is the primary driver of mating success in tuatara. However, MHC-associated preferences also appear to play a role, possibly as a kin avoidance mechanism during territory formation.
Project description:In recognition, discriminators use sensory information to make decisions. For example, honeybee (Apis mellifera) entrance guards discriminate between nest-mates and intruders by comparing their odours with a template of the colony odour. Comb wax plays a major role in honeybee recognition. We measured the rejection rates of nest-mate and non-nest-mate worker bees by entrance guards before and after a unidirectional transfer of wax comb from a 'comb donor' hive to a 'comb receiver' hive. Our results showed a significant effect that occurred in one direction. Guards in the comb receiver hive became more accepting of non-nest-mates from the comb donor hive (rejection decreased from 70 to 47%); however, guards in the comb donor hive did not become more accepting of bees from the comb receiver hive. These data strongly support the hypothesis that the transfer of wax comb increases the acceptance of non-nest-mates not by changing the odour of the bees, but by changing the template used by guards.
Project description:Animals use a range of sensory cues for finding food, avoiding predators and choosing mates. In this regard, the aquatic environment is particularly suitable for the use of olfactory and other chemical cues. Nevertheless, mate choice research, even on aquatic organisms, has focused on visual signals, while chemical cues relevant in sexual selection have been assumed to be 'intrinsic' excretions of mate candidates. Here, using the sand goby Pomatoschistus minutus, a small fish with paternal egg care, we investigated the possibility that 'extrinsic' chemical cues in the males' nests could also have a significant contribution to mating success. We found that females strongly avoided laying eggs into nests subject to the odour of Saprolegnia water moulds (an egg infection) and that this effect was independent of the females' initial, visually based preference for males. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to show that chemical cues related to parental failure can play a large role in sexual selection.
Project description:Although the honeybee is a crucial agricultural agent and a prominent scientific model organism, crucial aspects of its reproductive behaviour are still unknown. During the mating season, honeybee males, the drones, gather in congregations 10-40?m above ground. Converging evidence suggests that drones emit a pheromone that can attract other drones, thereby increasing the size of the congregation. Virgin queens join the vicinity of the congregation after it has formed, and mate with as many as 20 males in mid-air. It is still unclear which sensory cues help virgin queens find drone congregations in the first place. Beside visual cues for long-range orientation, queens may use olfactory cues. We thus tested virgin queens' olfactory orientation on a walking simulator in which they have full control over odour stimulation. We show that sexually-mature virgin queens are attracted to the odour bouquet from a group of living drones. They are not attracted to the bouquet from a group of workers. In addition, non-sexually receptive females (workers) of the same age are not attracted to the drone odour bouquet. Interpreted in the context of mating, these results may suggest that virgin queens use volatile olfactory cues from the drones to find the congregations.
Project description:Olfactory imprinting on environmental, population- and kin-specific cues is a specific form of life-long memory promoting homing of salmon to their natal rivers and the return of coral reef fish to natal sites. Despite its ecological significance, natural chemicals for olfactory imprinting have not been identified yet. Here, we show that MHC peptides function as chemical signals for olfactory imprinting in zebrafish. We found that MHC peptides consisting of nine amino acids elicit olfactory imprinting and subsequent kin recognition depending on the MHC genotype of the fish. In vivo calcium imaging shows that some olfactory bulb neurons are highly sensitive to MHC peptides with a detection threshold at 1?pM or lower, indicating that MHC peptides are potent olfactory stimuli. Responses to MHC peptides overlapped spatially with responses to kin odour but not food odour, consistent with the hypothesis that MHC peptides are natural signals for olfactory imprinting.