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Linear and threshold-dependent expression of secondary sexual traits in the same individual: insights from a horned beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae)

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Elaborate horns or horn-like structures in male scarab beetles commonly scale with body size either (a) in a linear fashion with horn size increasing relatively faster than body size or (b) in a threshold-dependent, sigmoid fashion; that is, males smaller than a certain critical body size develop no or only rudimentary horns, whereas males larger than the threshold size express fully developed horns. The development of linear vs. sigmoid scaling relationships is thought to require fundamentally different regulatory mechanisms. Here we show that such disparate regulatory mechanisms may co-occur in the same individual. Large males of the south-east Asian Onthophagus (Proagoderus) watanabei (Ochi & Kon) (Scarabaeidae, Onthophagini) develop a pair of long, curved head horns as well as a single thoracic horn. We show that unlike paired head horns in a large number of Onthophagus species, in O. watanabei the relationship between head horns and body size is best explained by a linear model. Large males develop disproportionately longer horns than small males, but the difference in relative horn sizes across the range of body sizes is small compared to other Onthophagus species. However, the scaling relationship between the thoracic horn and body size is best explained by a strongly sigmoid model. Only males above a certain body size threshold express a thoracic horn and males smaller than this threshold express no horn at all. We found a significant positive correlation between head and thoracic horn length residuals, contrary to what would be expected if a resource allocation tradeoff during larval development would influence the length of both horn types. Our results suggest that the scaling relationship between body size and horn length, and the developmental regulation underlying these scaling relationships, may be quite different for different horns, even though these horns may develop in the same individual. We discuss our results in the context of the developmental biology of secondary sexual traits in beetles. © 2004 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2004, 83, 473–480.
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Keywords: Onthophagus; allometry; developmental constraint; developmental tradeoff; scaling

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Center for Insect Science, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA 2: Syngenta, Jealott's Hill International Research Centre, Ecological Sciences, Bracknell, Berkshire RG42 6EY, UK 3: Soil Biodiversity Programme, Department of Entomology, The Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK

Publication date: 2004-12-01

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