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Am Nat. 2005 Oct;166 Suppl 4:S42-68.

Evolution of sexual dimorphism and male dimorphism in the expression of beetle horns: phylogenetic evidence for modularity, evolutionary lability, and constraint.

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Division of Biological Sciences, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana 59812, USA.


Beetle horns are enlarged outgrowths of the head or thorax that are used as weapons in contests over access to mates. Horn development is typically confined to males (sexual dimorphism) and often only to the largest males (male dimorphism). Both types of dimorphism result from endocrine threshold mechanisms that coordinate cell proliferation near the end of the larval period. Here, we map the presence/absence of each type of dimorphism onto a recent phylogeny for the genus Onthophagus (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) to explore how horn development has changed over time. Our results provide empirical support for several recent predictions regarding the evolutionary lability of developmental thresholds, including uncoupled evolution of alternative phenotypes and repeated fixation of phenotypes. We also report striking evidence of a possible developmental constraint. We show that male dimorphism and sexual dimorphism map together on the phylogeny; whenever small males have horns, females also have horns (and vice versa). We raise the possibility that correlated evolution of these two phenomena results from a shared element in their endocrine regulatory mechanisms rather than a history of common selection pressures. These results illustrate the type of insight that can be gained only from the integration of developmental and evolutionary perspectives.

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