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Curr Biol. 2009 Oct 13;19(19):1628-31. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.07.071. Epub 2009 Sep 10.

Rapidly shifting sex ratio across a species range.

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School of Biological Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 7ZB, UK.


Sex ratios are subject to distortion by a range of inherited parasites. Although it has been predicted that the presence of these elements will result in spatial and temporal variation in host sex ratio, testing of this hypothesis has been constrained by availability of historical data. We here determine spatial and temporal variation in sex ratio in a interaction between a butterfly and male-killing Wolbachia bacteria by assaying infection presence in museum specimens, and from this inferring infection prevalence and phenotype in historical populations. Comparison of contemporary and museum samples revealed profound change in four of five populations examined. Two populations become extremely female biased, associated with spread of the male-killer bacterium. One evolved from extremely female biased to a sex ratio near parity, resulting from the infection losing male-killing activity. The final population fluctuated widely in sex ratio, associated with varying frequency of the male killer. We conclude that asynchronous invasion and decline of sex-ratio distorters combines with the evolution of host suppressors to produce a rapidly changing mosaic of sex ratio. As a consequence, the reproductive ecology of the host species is likely to be fundamentally altered over short time scales. Further, the study demonstrates the utility of museum specimens as "silent witnesses" of evolutionary change.

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