Most seabirds are genetically monogamous. They are long-lived birds that usually mate for life and share parental care. Mate choice is therefore often considered as the most important reproductive strategy to maximize fitness. However mate choice may be constrained, and like in polygamous species, post-pairing reproductive strategies might have evolved to limit the cost of a bad pairing. One of the major forces driving the evolution of reproductive strategies is the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC), a group of polymorphic genes that are crucial for immunity in vertebrates.
The main goals of the “SexualRepro Arctic” project is therefore (1) to determine the evolutionary forces that can drive the evolution of MHC-based reproductive strategies, (2) to characterize the MHC-based behavioral and physiological reproductive strategies, and (3) to determine the phenotype cues used by birds to assess the MHC-characteristics of conspecifics. We will study a population of black-legged kittiwakes, a sexually-monogamous species, nesting on an abandoned radar tower on Middleton Island, Alaska, where artificial nest sites have been created on the upper walls, permitting observations from inside the tower through sliding one-way windows.