Why does female infidelity occur so frequently throughout the animal kingdom? A 10-year study from the University of East Anglia published today shows that female birds may increase their offspring's survival through their infidelity.
Although in many animals females may pair up with a specific 'social' mate who helps raise the pairs' offspring, DNA fingerprinting studies across a wide range of animals reveals that offspring may often be sired by males other than the pair male.
What has perplexed scientists is why females engage in such infidelity – what is the benefit of being fertilised by these other males – males which do not contribute towards raising the offspring.
Despite pairing with the same male for life, female Seychelles warbler birds often prefer to be fertilised by other males, and this appears to increase the genetic quality of their offspring.
The study has shown that these extra-pair fertilisations can result in a higher diversity of specific genes which detect disease and trigger an immune response in offspring. As a consequence, the offspring survive longer probably as a result of having greater resistance to a wider range of diseases.
The research 'MHC-dependent survival in a wild population: evidence for hidden genetic benefits gained through extra-pair fertilisations' has been lead by Dr David Richardson (UEA) and is published today in Molecular Ecology.
Since 1997 more than 97 per cent of warblers on the tiny island of Cousin in the Seychelles were ringed, blood sampled, and their breeding attempts followed. The researchers monitored the fate of 160 birds hatched on the island between 1997 and 1999, over 10 years.
They found that females paired to males with a low diversity of disease-detecting genes (major histocompatibility complex or MHC) elevate the gene diversity of their offspring by gaining extra-pair fertilisations from males with higher diversity. This extra pair fertility was found to be common – accounting for 40 per cent of offspring.
Importantly, the offspring born as a result of this female infidelity have higher genetic diversity at these disease-detecting genes than they would have had if sired by the cuckolded pair male. However they were not found to be higher than the population average.
The researchers then found a positive association between diversity of MHC genes and juvenile survival. A higher than median MHC diversity was found to increase lifespan more than two-fold.
They also found that offspring with a specific rare gene variant (Ase-ua4) had a five times longer life-expectancy than offspring without this allele. However these birds did not necessarily have a greater MHC diversity. It is thought that individuals with this rare variant of MHC genes may survive longer because these rare variants better resist diseases that have already evolved to evade more common variants.
Dr Richardson said: "We first tested whether extra-pair offspring have a survival advantage compared to within-pair offspring. Then we tested whether there are genetic benefits to the patterns of the MHC-dependent extra-pair fertilizations observed in this species."
"We did not find any evidence for genetic benefits of extra-pair fertilisations per se, as on average extra-and within-pair offspring survived equally well.
"However, by not being faithful to a pair male with low MHC diversity, females are ensuring that their offspring do not end up with below average levels of MHC diversity and therefore lower survival.
"We have shown that the association between survival and MHC diversity levelled off with increasing diversity, so choosing males with above average MHC diversity would not have resulted in any additional fitness benefits for the offspring.
"One thing that remains unknown however, is what mechanism drives the patterns of MHC-dependent extra-pair mate choice. Experiments are needed to determine whether females actively choose more diverse MHC males or whether other factors like male-male competition or sperm competition play a role."
The study was lead by the University of East Anglia, with colleagues from the University of Sheffield, the University of Groningen and Nature Seychelles.
Lisa Horton | EurekAlert!
Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University
New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.
In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...
Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale
Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...
For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.
But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...
Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.
The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...
Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters
Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...
15.02.2018 | Event News
13.02.2018 | Event News
12.02.2018 | Event News
21.02.2018 | Life Sciences
21.02.2018 | Life Sciences
21.02.2018 | Materials Sciences