PATTERNS OF THRESHOLD EVOLUTION IN POLYPHENIC INSECTS UNDER DIFFERENT DEVELOPMENTAL MODELS

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Abstract

Two hypotheses address the evolution of polyphenic traits in insects. Under the developmental reprogramming model, individuals exceeding a threshold follow a different developmental pathway from individuals below the threshold. This decoupling is thought to free selection to independently hone alternative morphologies, increasing phenotypic plasticity and morphological diversity. Under the alternative model, extreme positive allometry explains the existence of alternative phenotypes and divergent phenotypes are developmentally coupled by a continuous reaction norm, such that selection on either morph acts on both. We test the hypothesis that continuous reaction norm polyphenisms, evolve through changes in the allometric parameters of even the smallest males with minimal trait expression, whereas threshold polyphenisms evolve independent of the allometric parameters of individuals below the threshold. We compare two polyphenic species; the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus, whose allometry has been modeled both as a threshold polyphenism and a continuous reaction norm and the earwig Forficula auricularia, whose allometry is best modeled with a discontinuous threshold. We find that across populations of both species, variation in forceps or horn allometry in minor males are correlated to the population's threshold. These findings suggest that regardless of developmental mode, alternative morphs do not evolve independently of one another.

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