African buffalo maintain high genetic diversity in the major histocompatibility complex in spite of historically known population bottlenecks

Mol Ecol. 1998 Oct;7(10):1315-22. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-294x.1998.00463.x.


Historical population collapses caused by rinderpest epidemics are hypothesized to have resulted in notable genetic losses in populations of the African buffalo. Polymorphism in the major histocompatibity complex (MHC) DRB3 gene was probed by means of restriction analysis of the sequence encoding the peptide-binding region. Nucleotide substitution patterns agreed with a positive selection acting on this fitness-relevant locus. Buffalo populations from four National Parks, situated in eastern and southern Africa, each revealed a surprisingly high allelic diversity. Current high levels of heterozygosity may be reconciled with historical bottlenecks by assuming that local extinctions were followed by fast recolonization, in accordance with the high dispersive capabilities of buffalo. The specific amplification of DRB3 alleles also enabled the assignment of individual genotypes. For each population sample a deficiency in the expected number of heterozygous animals was found. As overdominant selection on the MHC is predicted to yield an excess of heterozygous individuals, this may not be a locus-specific effect. Several other explanations are discussed, of which increased homozygosity caused by nonrandom mating of buffalo in populations seems the most probable.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa / epidemiology
  • Alleles
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Buffaloes / genetics*
  • Buffaloes / immunology*
  • Cattle
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genetics, Population
  • History, 19th Century
  • Major Histocompatibility Complex*
  • Male
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Rinderpest / epidemiology
  • Rinderpest / history
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid