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How 'secondary' sex characters can drive the origin of species
Date:8/25/2008

aurus populations Moczek and Parzer studied in the U.S. (North Carolina), Italy, and western and eastern Australia, exhibit substantial changes in both horn and genitalia length -- as much as 3.5 times, in terms of an "investment" index the scientists devised that takes body size into account.

The scientists examined 10 other Onthophagus species, and as expected, they found vast differences between the species regarding horn and male copulatory organ size. Moczek says this suggests that trade-offs between primary and secondary sexual traits continue to shape the way species diverge well after speciation has occurred.

The speed and magnitude of divergence within O. taurus presents something of a paradox. How is it that copulatory organ size can be so rigorously maintained within the populations of a single species, yet appear so restless to change?

"In terms of the integrity of a species, it's important for these things not to change too much," Moczek explains. "So there is a lot of evidence suggesting that within species or within the populations of species, natural selection maintains genital characters. But if these primary sex characters are linked to other characters that can change readily, then you've got what we think is a very exciting mechanism that could prime populations for reproductive isolation."

Horn length and shape can change for many reasons, Moczek says. Among densely populated species, fighting (which favors large horns) may not be an effective strategy for winning mates. As combative males fight each other, a diminutive, smaller-horned male could simply employ a sneaking strategy to gain access to unguarded females. Under these circumstances, reduced investment in horns seems to result in larger copulatory organs. Alternately, in lower density populations, most male beetles spend a great deal of time fighting. Longer, bigger horns could serve these males well -- and also lead to smaller genitalia.

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Contact: David Bricker
brickerd@indiana.edu
812-856-9035
Indiana University
Source:Eurekalert  

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