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Evolution. 2016 Oct;70(10):2357-2369. doi: 10.1111/evo.13032. Epub 2016 Aug 24.

Complex heterochrony underlies the evolution of Caenorhabditis elegans hermaphrodite sex allocation.

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Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, CNRS, Inserm, IBV, Parc Valrose, 06100, Nice, France.
Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, Apartado 14, P-2781-901, Oeiras, Portugal.
Institut de Biologie, École Normale Supérieure, CNRS UMR 8197, INSERM U1024, F-75005, Paris, France.
Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, CNRS, Inserm, IBV, Parc Valrose, 06100, Nice, France.


Hermaphroditic organisms are key models in sex allocation research, yet the developmental processes by which hermaphrodite sex allocation can evolve remain largely unknown. Here we use experimental evolution of hermaphrodite-male (androdioecious) Caenorhabditis elegans populations to quantify the developmental changes underlying adaptive shifts in hermaphrodite sex allocation. We show that the experimental evolution of increased early-life self-fertility occurred through modification of a suite of developmental traits: increased self-sperm production, accelerated oogenesis and ovulation, and increased embryo retention. The experimental evolution of increased self-sperm production delayed entry into oogenesis-as expected, given the sequentially coupled production of self-spermatogenesis and oogenesis. Surprisingly, however, delayed oogenesis onset did not delay reproductive maturity, nor did it trade-off with gamete or embryo size. Comparing developmental time dynamics of germline and soma indicates that the evolution of increased sperm production did not delay reproductive maturity due to a globally accelerated larval development during the period of self-spermatogenesis. Overall, heterochrony in gametogenesis and soma can explain adaptive shifts in hermaphrodite sex allocation.


Caenorhabditis elegans; evolution of development; experimental evolution; hermaphrodite; mating system evolution

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