Birds are a wonderfully diverse and accessible clade with an exceptional range of ecologies and behaviors, making the study of the avian major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of great interest. In the last 20 years, particularly with the advent of high-throughput sequencing, the avian MHC has been explored in great depth in several dimensions: its ability to explain ecological patterns in nature, such as mating preferences; its correlation with parasite resistance; and its structural evolution across the avian tree of life. Here, we review the latest pulse of avian MHC studies spurred by high-throughput sequencing. Despite high-throughput approaches to MHC studies, substantial areas remain in need of improvement with regard to our understanding of MHC structure, diversity, and evolution. Recent studies of the avian MHC have nonetheless revealed intriguing connections between MHC structure and life history traits, and highlight the advantages of long-term ecological studies for understanding the patterns of MHC variation in the wild. Given the exceptional diversity of birds, their accessibility, and the ease of sequencing their genomes, studies of avian MHC promise to improve our understanding of the many dimensions and consequences of MHC variation in nature. However, significant improvements in assembling complete MHC regions with long-read sequencing will be required for truly transformative studies.
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