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Curr Biol. 2011 Apr 12;21(7):569-73. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.02.032.

Habitat complexity drives experimental evolution of a conditionally expressed secondary sexual trait.

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  • 1Centre for Evolutionary Biology, School of Animal Biology (M092), University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.


The conditional expression of alternative phenotypes underlies the production of almost all life history decisions and many dichotomous traits, including male alternative reproductive morphs and behavioral tactics. Changes in tactic fitness should lead to evolutionary shifts in developmental switch points that underlie tactic expression. We used experimental evolution to directly test this hypothesis by rearing ten generations of the male-dimorphic mite Rhizoglyphus echinopus in either simple or three-dimensionally complex habitats that differed in their effects on morph fitness. In R. echinopus, fighter males develop weapons used for killing rivals, whereas scrambler males do not. Populations evolving in complex 3D habitats, where fighters had reduced fitness, produced fewer fighters because the switch point for fighter development evolved to a larger critical body size. Both the reduced mobility of fighter males and the altered spatial distribution of potential mates and rivals in the complex habitat were implicated in the evolutionary divergence of switch point between the habitats. Our results demonstrate how abiotic factors like habitat complexity can have a profound effect on evolution through sexual selection.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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