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Curr Biol. 2012 Dec 4;22(23):2258-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.10.009. Epub 2012 Oct 25.

Phenotypic engineering unveils the function of genital morphology.

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Evolutionary Biology, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Uppsala University, Norbyvägen 18D, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden.


The rapidly evolving and often extraordinarily complex appearance of male genital morphology of internally fertilizing animals has been recognized for centuries. Postcopulatory sexual selection is regarded as the likely evolutionary engine of this diversity, but direct support for this hypothesis is limited. We used two complementary approaches, evolution through artificial selection and microscale laser surgery, to experimentally manipulate genital morphology in an insect model system. We then assessed the competitive fertilization success of these phenotypically manipulated males and studied the fate of their ejaculate in females using high-resolution radioisotopic labeling of ejaculates. Males with longer genital spines were more successful in gaining fertilizations, providing experimental evidence that male genital morphology influences success in postcopulatory reproductive competition. Furthermore, a larger proportion of the ejaculate moved from the reproductive tract into the female body following mating with males with longer spines, suggesting that genital spines increase the rate at which seminal fluid passes into the female hemolymph. Our results show that genital morphology affects male competitive fertilization success and imply that sexual selection on genital morphology may be mediated in part through seminal fluid.

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