Threshold evolution in exotic populations of a polyphenic beetle

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2002
Authors:A. P. Moczek, Hunt, J., Emlen, D. J., Simmons, L. W.
Journal:Evolutionary Ecology Research
Keywords:adaptive phenotypic plasticity, alternative tactics, developmental threshold, exotic species, horn polyphenism, Onthophagus, status-dependent selection, threshold evolution.

Polyphenic development is thought to play an important role in the evolution of phenotypic diversity and morphological novelties, yet the evolution of polyphenisms has rarely been docu- mented in natural populations. Here we compare the morphologies of male dung beetles (Onthophagus ttaurus; Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) from populations introduced to Australia and the eastern United States. Males in this species express two alternative morphologies in response to larval feeding conditions. Males encountering favourable conditions grow larger than a threshold body size and develop a pair of horns on their heads, whereas males that encounter poor conditions do not reach this threshold size and remain hornless. Australian and US populations did not differ in overall body size ranges, but exhibited significant differences in the location of the critical body size threshold that separates alternative male morphs. Australian males remained hornless at much larger body sizes than males in US populations, resulting in substantial and significant differences in the average body size–horn length allometry between exotic populations, as well as significant differences in morph ratios. The phenotypic divergence observed between field populations was maintained in laboratory populations after two generations under identical environmental conditions, suggesting a genetic basis to allometric divergence in these populations. Divergence between exotic O. taurus populations was of a magnitude and kind typically observed between species. We use our results to examine potential causes of allometric divergence in onthophagine beetles, and discuss the evolutionary potential of threshold traits and polyphenic development in the origin of morphological and behavioural diversity.

Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith