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Evolution. 2008 Apr;62(4):900-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00326.x. Epub 2008 Jan 14.

Evolutionary links between reproductive morphology, ecology and mating behavior in opisthobranch gastropods.

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Animal Evolutionary Ecology, Zoological Institute, Eberhard Karls-Universität Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Sexual coevolution in morphological and behavioral traits has rarely been studied. Using phylogenetic analyses, we explore relationships between sexual characters based on a new molecular phylogeny of 33 opisthobranch taxa (Aglajidae and Gastropteridae). Our measurements of these simultaneous hermaphrodites include male and female reproductive anatomy, mating behavior, and spatial gregariousness. After phylogenetic correction, we found evidence for correlated evolution between male and female reproductive organs such as the size of the seminal fluid producing prostate gland and that of the sperm digesting bursa copulatrix. Our findings suggest that reproductive trait variation is mediated by sexual coevolution, where putatively manipulative male organs evolved in association with female organs involved in sperm selection. Furthermore, low gregariousness was associated with long, reciprocal copulations. We interpret this result as an adaptation to infrequent mate encounters, where it pays to mate longer with and presumably transfer more sperm to a rare partner. Several complex reproductive traits were repeatedly gained or lost across our phylogeny. This pattern is consistent with a scenario in which sexual selection generates dynamic coevolutionary cycles similar to those expected under sexual antagonism. We finally outline approaches for experimentally assessing the proposed functional links that underlie the evolutionary correlations revealed by our study.

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