The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) enables vertebrates to cope with pathogens and maintain healthy populations, thus making it a unique set of loci for addressing ecology and evolutionary biology questions. The aim of our study was to examine the variability of Heermann’s Gull MHC class II (MHCIIB) and compare these loci with other Charadriiformes. Fifty-nine MHCIIB haplotypes were recovered from sixty-eight Heermann’s Gulls by cloning, of them, twelve were identified as putative true alleles, forty-five as unique alleles, and two as pseudogenes. Intra and interspecific relationships indicated at least two loci in Heermann’s Gull MHCIIB and trans-species polymorphism among Charadriiformes (coinciding with the documented evidence of two ancient avian MHCIIB lineages, except in the Charadriidae family). Additionally, sites under diversifying selection revealed a better match with peptide-binding sites inferred in birds than those described in humans. Despite the negative anthropogenic activity reported on Isla Rasa, Heermann’s Gull showed MHCIIB variability consistent with population expansion, possibly due to a sudden growth following conservation efforts. Duplication must play an essential role in shaping Charadriiformes MHCIIB variability, buffering selective pressures through balancing selection. These findings suggest that MHC copy number and protected islands can contribute to seabird conservation.
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