First assessment of MHC diversity in wild Scottish red deer populations

  • Sílvia Pérez-EsponaEmail author
  • William Paul Goodall-Copestake
  • Anna Savirina
  • Jekaterina Bobovikova
  • Carles Molina-Rubio
  • F. Javier Pérez-Barbería
Original Article


Control and mitigation of disease in wild ungulate populations are one of the major challenges in wildlife management. Despite the importance of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes for immune response, assessment of diversity on these genes is still rare for European deer populations. Here, we conducted the first assessment of variation at the second exon of the MHC DRB in wild populations of Scottish highland red deer, the largest continuous population of red deer in Europe. Allelic diversity at these loci was high, with 25 alleles identified. Selection analyses indicated c. 22% of amino acids encoded under episodic positive selection. Patterns of MHC allelic distribution were not congruent with neutral population genetic structure (estimated with 16 nuclear microsatellite markers) in the study area, the latter showing a marked differentiation between populations located at either side of the Great Glen. This study represents a first step towards building an immunogenetic map of red deer populations across Scotland to aid future management strategies for this ecologically and economically important species.


Cervus elaphus Immunogenetics Major histocompatibility complex Population structure Red deer Wildlife management 



Deer stalkers and deer managers of the estates of Tarlogie, Strathconon, Inshriach and Abernethy are greatly thanked for the collection of samples. A. Jones, K. Russell, S. Joinson and J. Hennessy are thanked for assistance with microsatellite genotyping and S. Requena (CSIC) for map reproduction. Cambridge Conservation Forum and the Cambridge Conservation Initiative are thanked for allowing Sílvia Pérez-Espona to use their office space at the David Attenborough Building while preparing this manuscript.

Funding information

This study was funded by the British Deer Society and samples were obtained from a project funded through Rural Affairs Food and Environment Strategic Research-Scottish Government.

Supplementary material

10344_2019_1254_MOESM1_ESM.docx (115 kb)
Figure S1 Amino acid composition of the 25 MHC DRB exon 2 alleles found in Scottish highland red deer. (DOCX 115 kb)
10344_2019_1254_MOESM2_ESM.docx (74 kb)
Figure S2 Results from structure for the analyses of population structure using MHC DRB exon 2 loci. (DOCX 74 kb)
10344_2019_1254_MOESM3_ESM.docx (50 kb)
Figure S3 Results from structure for the analyses of population structure using 16 microsatellite loci. (DOCX 50 kb)
10344_2019_1254_MOESM4_ESM.docx (15 kb)
Table S1 Contrasts of the estimates of the regression analyses of each of the first three linear discriminants against populations. Significant p values indicate differences between pairs of populations for the corresponding linear discriminant. The results are consistent with Fig. 4. (DOCX 15 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary StudiesThe University of EdinburghMidlothianUK
  2. 2.Anglia Ruskin UniversityCambridgeUK
  3. 3.British Antarctic SurveyCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Estación Biológica de Doñana–CSICSevilleSpain
  5. 5.Instituto de Investigación en Recursos Cinegéticos of CSIC-UCLM-JCCMUniversidad de Castilla-La ManchaAlbaceteSpain

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