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Helena Westerdahl

Long distance migratory birds often experience very different pathogen faunas at their wintering, stop-over and breeding sites and their immune defence is therefore challenged in different ways different times of the year. More resident birds will most likely experience a pathogen fauna that vary less over the season.

My main interest is to investigate associations between the genes (genotype) in the genome and the individuals that we observe (phenotype) in avian study populations. Such associations are difficult to find and therefore I study genes that are subject to balancing selection. My main focus has so far been MHC genes (Major Histocompatibility Complex) in songbirds. The MHC genes are of importance in the immune defence and they are the most variable genes known in vertebrates. This high genetic variation is most likely maintained by selection from infectious pathogens.

I study natural selection on the genetic level in resident house sparrows Passer domesticus and in long distance migratory great reed warblers Acrocephalus arundinaceus, both selection that occurs at present (by for example avian malaria infections at the breeding and wintering sites) and in the past (through sequence analyses). We know that certain MHC genes in great reed warblers are associated with better survival of an avian malaria infection (Plasmodium ashfordi) that is transmitted at their wintering site.


Retrieved from Lund University's publications database

Helena Westerdahl
E-mail: helena [dot] westerdahl [at] biol [dot] lu [dot] se

Senior lecturer


+46 46 222 36 69



Centre for Animal Movement Research
Evolutionary Ecology, Department of Biology
Ecology building S-223 62 Lund Sweden