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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Sexual dimorphism dominates divergent host plant use in stick insect trophic morphology

Denis Roy12*, Ole Seehausen23 and Patrik Nosil45

Author Affiliations

1 Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada

2 EAWAG, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science & Technology, Department of Fish Ecology & Evolution, Centre for Ecology, Evolution & Biogeochemistry, Seestrasse 79, CH-6047, Kastanienbaum, Switzerland

3 Division of Aquatic Ecology & Evolution, Institute of Ecology & Evolution, University of Bern, Baltzerstrasse 6, CH-3012, Bern, Switzerland

4 Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK

5 Institute for Advanced Study, Wissenschaftskolleg, Berlin, Germany

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2013, 13:135  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-13-135

Published: 3 July 2013



Clear examples of ecological speciation exist, often involving divergence in trophic morphology. However, substantial variation also exists in how far the ecological speciation process proceeds, potentially linked to the number of ecological axes, traits, or genes subject to divergent selection. In addition, recent studies highlight how differentiation might occur between the sexes, rather than between populations. We examine variation in trophic morphology in two host-plant ecotypes of walking-stick insects (Timema cristinae), known to have diverged in morphological traits related to crypsis and predator avoidance, and to have reached an intermediate point in the ecological speciation process. Here we test how host plant use, sex, and rearing environment affect variation in trophic morphology in this species using traditional multivariate, novel kernel density based and Bayesian morphometric analyses.


Contrary to expectations, we find limited host-associated divergence in mandible shape. Instead, the main predictor of shape variation is sex, with secondary roles of population of origin and rearing environment.


Our results show that trophic morphology does not strongly contribute to host-adapted ecotype divergence in T. cristinae and that traits can respond to complex selection regimes by diverging along different intraspecific lines, thereby impeding progress toward speciation.

Sexual dimorphism; Timema cristinae; Trophic morphology; Mandibles; Geometric morphometrics; Bayesian clustering; Morphological uniqueness; Occupied morphospace; Disruptive selection; Selection dissipation