Research interests

  • Effects of long-distance dispersal and life-history traits on adaptive genetic diversity
  • MHC and sexual selection
  • Heterozygosity-fitness correlation
  • Avian gut microbiome
  • ‘Next generation sequencing’
  • Greater flamingos 





Scientific projects

Long-distance migration and dispersal is likely to play a central role in the spread of pathogens across wide geographic areas, which have important implications for wildlife, livestock and human health. In particular, long-distance migrating and dispersing waterbirds are often cited as playing a central role in the wide geographic spread of waterborne gastrointestinal pathogens which contaminate crucial waterbodies for wildlife and human activities. However, the host-pathogen interaction in long-distance dispersing species remains largely unknown. Immune genetic diversity, including the most diverse immune genes in vertebrates, major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes, is generally thought to be correlated with adaptive potential and to be shaped by powerful pathogen-mediated selection (PMS). How PMS shapes MHC diversity will depend on the little known spatial and temporal dynamics of pathogen communities encountered by long-distance dispersing species. Long-distance dispersal may act to homogenise pathogen communities across species distribution, thereby resulting in similar PMS between populations. Alternatively, strong environmental selection may rapidly select pathogens across space and time, resulting in strong selection for local adaptations. Furthermore, pathogens and host MHC variability are likely to have an important impact on both host survival and the ability of the host to disperse. MHC variability associated with low pathogen load may favour long-distance dispersal propensity and ability, which will limit the effectiveness of pathogen spread by long-distance dispersal host species. To date, no study has investigated the combined effects of pathogens and MHC variability on dispersal behaviour. The Greater Flamingo, Phoenicopterus roseus is a partially long-distance migratory and dispersing waterbird species. It is the most abundant avian species in Mediterranean wetlands and feeds intensively in areas where a large number of birds have defecated in shallow waters, which increases the risk of gastrointestinal pathogen infection. By combining a large number of samples collected around the Mediterranean basin and west Africa (n = 9886), a long-term life-history dataset (1995-2016) and recently available next-generation sequencing methods, we will test: (1) test the effect of the local environment and long-distance dispersal on the gastrointestinal bacterial community and MHC diversity of breeding populations across the Mediterranean basin and west Africa; (2) identify pathogen- and MHC-fitness trait correlations; (3) test for the variation in MHC allele frequencies and selection across time; and, (4) test the combined effects of pathogen loads and MHC variation on long-distance dispersal propensity and ability. This project will play a crucial role in the understanding of the risks of gastrointestinal pathogens on natural avian populations and how it shapes genetic adaptability, individual fitness and population health.


Gillingham MAF, Bechet A, Courtiol A, Rendón-Martos M, AmatJA, Samraoui, Onmus O, Sommer S, Cezilly F (2017) Very high MHC Class IIB diversity without spatial differentiation in the Mediterranean population of greater flamingos. BMC Evolutionary Biology (02.02.2017)

Borghesi B, Dinelli E, Migani F, Béchet A, Rendón-Martos M, Amat JA, Sommer S, Gillingham MAF (2017) Assessing environmental pollution in birds: a new methodological approach for interpreting bioaccumulation of trace elements in feather shafts using geochemical sediment data. Methods in Ecology and Evolution  8:96–108, DOI: 10.1111/2041-210X.12644

Gillingham, M. a. F., Courtiol, A., Teixeira, M., Galan, M., Bechet, A., & Cezilly, F. (2016). Evidence of gene orthology and trans-species polymorphism, but not of parallel evolution, despite high levels of concerted evolution in the major histocompatibility complex of flamingo species. J Evol Biol , 29(2), 438-454.

Morris H, Plavcová L, Cvecko P, Fichtler E, Gillingham MAF, Martínez-Cabrera HI, McGlinn DJ, Wheeler E, Zheng J, Ziemińska K, Jansen S (2015) A global analysis of parenchyma tissue fractions in secondary xylem of seed plants. New Phytol doi:10.1111/nph.13737

Galipaud, M., Gillingham, M. A. F., David, M. & Dechaume-Moncharmont, F.-X. (2014) Ecologists overestimate the importance of predictor variables in model averaging: a plea for cautious interpretations. Methods Ecol. Evol. 5, 983-991. (doi:10.1111/2041-210X.12251)

David, M., Le Hô, M., Laskowski, K., Salignon, M., Gillingham, M. A. F. & Giraldeau, L.-A. (2014) Individual differences in behavioral consistency are related to sequential access to resources and body condition in a producer-scrounger game. Front. Ecol. Evol. 2. (doi:10.3389/fevo.2014.00019)

David, M., Gillingham, M. A. F., Salignon, M., Laskowski, K. L. & Giraldeau, L.-A. (2014) Speed-accuracy trade-off and its consequences in a scramble competition context. Anim. Behav. 90, 255-262. (doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2014.02.009)

Torres, C. R., Ogawa, L. M., Gillingham, M. A., Ferrari, B. & van Tuinen, M. (2014) A multi-locus inference of the evolutionary diversification of extant flamingos (Phoenicopteridae). BMC Evol. Biol. 14, 36. (doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-36)

Gillingham MAF, Cézilly F, Wattier R, Béchet A (2013) Evidence for an association between post-fledging dispersal and microsatellite multilocus heterozygosity in a large population of greater flamingos. PLoS ONE. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0081118

Løvlie H, Gillingham MAF, Worley K, Pizzari T, Richardson DS (2013) Cryptic female choice favours sperm from MHC-dissimilar males. Proc. R. Soc.B., 280: 1769. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2013.1296

Gillingham MAF, Béchett A, Geraci J, Wattier R, Dubreuil C, Cézilly F (2012) Genetic polymorphism in dopamine receptor D4 is associated with early body condition in a large population of greater flamingos, Phoenicopterus roseus. Molecular Ecology, 21, 16: 4024-4037.

Gillingham MAF, Richardson DS, Løvlie H, Moynihan A, Worley K, Pizzari T (2009) Cryptic preference for MHC-dissimilar females in male red junglefowl, Gallus gallus. Proc. R. Soc. B., 276:1083-1092.

Worley K, Gillingham M, Jensen P, Kennedy LJ, Pizzari T, Kaufman J, Richardson DS (2008) Single locus typing of MHC class I and class II B loci in a population of red jungle fowl. Immunogenetics 60:233-247.


  • Dr. Mark Gillingham

  • Institute of Evolutionary Ecology
    and Conservation Genomics
    University of Ulm
    Helmholtzstr. 10/1
    89081 Ulm
    Tel: +49 731 50-22692
    Email: mark.gillingham(at)