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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The evolution of antennal courtship in diplazontine parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera, Ichneumonidae, Diplazontinae)

Seraina Klopfstein12*, Donald LJ Quicke34 and Christian Kropf1

Author Affiliations

1 Natural History Museum (Invertebrates), Bernastrasse 15, CH-3005 Bern, Switzerland

2 Division of Community Ecology, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstr. 7, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland

3 Division of Biology, Imperial College London, Silwood Park Campus, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7PY, UK

4 Department of Entomology, Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:218  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-218

Published: 20 July 2010

Abstract

Background

As predicted by theory, traits associated with reproduction often evolve at a comparatively high speed. This is especially the case for courtship behaviour which plays a central role in reproductive isolation. On the other hand, courtship behavioural traits often involve morphological and behavioural adaptations in both sexes; this suggests that their evolution might be under severe constraints, for instance irreversibility of character loss. Here, we use a recently proposed method to retrieve data on a peculiar courtship behavioural trait, i.e. antennal coiling, for 56 species of diplazontine parasitoid wasps. On the basis of a well-resolved phylogeny, we reconstruct the evolutionary history of antennal coiling and associated morphological modifications to study the mode of evolution of this complex character system.

Results

Our study reveals a large variation in shape, location and ultra-structure of male-specific modifications on the antennae. As for antennal coiling, we find either single-coiling, double-coiling or the absence of coiling; each state is present in multiple genera. Using a model comparison approach, we show that the possession of antennal modifications is highly correlated with antennal coiling behaviour. Ancestral state reconstruction shows that both antennal modifications and antennal coiling are highly congruent with the molecular phylogeny, implying low levels of homoplasy and a comparatively low speed of evolution. Antennal coiling is lost on two independent occasions, and never reacquired. A zero rate of regaining antennal coiling is supported by maximum parsimony, maximum likelihood and Bayesian approaches.

Conclusions

Our study provides the first comparative evidence for a tight correlation between male-specific antennal modifications and the use of the antennae during courtship. Antennal coiling in Diplazontinae evolved at a comparatively low rate, and was never reacquired in any of the studied taxa. This suggests that the loss of antennal coiling is irreversible on the timescale examined here, and therefore that evolutionary constraints have greatly influenced the evolution of antennal courtship in this group of parasitoid wasps. Further studies are needed to ascertain whether the loss of antennal coiling is irreversible on larger timescales, and whether evolutionary constraints have influenced courtship behavioural traits in a similar way in other groups.