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Open Access Research article

Pupal remodeling and the evolution and development of alternative male morphologies in horned beetles

Armin P Moczek

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington IN, USA

BMC Evolutionary Biology 2007, 7:151  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-7-151

Published: 29 August 2007

Abstract

Background

How novel morphological traits originate and diversify represents a major frontier in evolutionary biology. Horned beetles are emerging as an increasingly popular model system to explore the genetic, developmental, and ecological mechanisms, as well as the interplay between them, in the genesis of novelty and diversity. The horns of beetles originate during a rapid growth phase during the prepupal stage of larval development. Differential growth during this period is either implicitly or explicitly assumed to be the sole mechanism underlying differences in horn expression within and between species. Here I focus on male horn dimorphisms, a phenomenon at the center of many studies in behavioral ecology and evolutionary development, and quantify the relative contributions of a previously ignored developmental process, pupal remodeling, to the expression of male dimorphism in three horned beetle species.

Results

Prepupal growth is not the only determinant of differences in male horn expression. Instead, following their initial prepupal growth phase, beetles may be extensively remodeled during the subsequent pupal stage in a sex and size-dependent manner. Specifically, male dimorphism in the three Onthophagus species studied here was shaped not at all, partly or entirely by such pupal remodeling rather than differential growth, suggesting that pupal remodeling is phylogenetically widespread, evolutionarily labile, and developmentally flexible.

Conclusion

This study is the first to document that male dimorphism in horned beetles is the product of two developmentaly dissociated processes: prepupal growth and pupal remodeling. More generally, adult morphology alone appears to provide few clues, if any, as to the relative contributions of both processes to the expression of alternative male morphs, underscoring the importance of developmental studies in efforts aimed at understanding the evolution of adult diversity patterns.