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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Unlocking the "Black box": internal female genitalia in Sepsidae (Diptera) evolve fast and are species-specific

Nalini Puniamoorthy12*, Marion Kotrba3 and Rudolf Meier2

  • * Corresponding author: Nalini Puniamoorthy nalini@ieu.uzh.ch

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich, Winterthurerstrasse 190, CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland

2 Department of Biological Sciences and University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore, 14 Science Drive 4, Singapore 117543, Singapore

3 Bavarian State collection of Zoology, M√ľnchhausenstrasse 21, D-81247 Munich, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2010, 10:275  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-10-275

Published: 10 September 2010

Abstract

Background

The species-specificity of male genitalia has been well documented in many insect groups and sexual selection has been proposed as the evolutionary force driving the often rapid, morphological divergence. The internal female genitalia, in sharp contrast, remain poorly studied. Here, we present the first comparative study of the internal reproductive system of Sepsidae. We test the species-specificity of the female genitalia by comparing recently diverged sister taxa. We also compare the rate of change in female morphological characters with the rate of fast-evolving, molecular and behavioral characters.

Results

We describe the ectodermal parts of the female reproductive tract for 41 species representing 21 of the 37 described genera and define 19 morphological characters with discontinuous variation found in eight structures that are part of the reproductive tract. Using a well-resolved molecular phylogeny based on 10 genes, we reconstruct the evolution of these characters across the family [120 steps; Consistency Index (CI): 0.41]. Two structures, in particular, evolve faster than the rest. The first is the ventral receptacle, which is a secondary sperm storage organ. It accounts for more than half of all the evolutionary changes observed (7 characters; 61 steps; CI: 0.46). It is morphologically diverse across genera, can be bi-lobed or multi-chambered (up to 80 chambers), and is strongly sclerotized in one clade. The second structure is the dorsal sclerite, which is present in all sepsids except Orygma luctuosum and Ortalischema albitarse. It is associated with the opening of the spermathecal ducts and is often distinct even among sister species (4 characters; 16 steps; CI: 0.56).

Conclusions

We find the internal female genitalia are diverse in Sepsidae and diagnostic for all species. In particular, fast-evolving structures like the ventral receptacle and dorsal sclerite are likely involved in post-copulatory sexual selection. In comparison to behavioral and molecular data, the female structures are evolving 2/3 as fast as the non-constant third positions of the COI barcoding gene. They display less convergent evolution in characters (CI = 0.54) than the third positions or sepsid mating behavior (CICOI = 0.36; CIBEHAV = 0.45).