Two Thresholds, Three Male Forms Result in Facultative Male Trimorphism in Beetles

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Science  06 Feb 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5915, pp. 773-776
DOI: 10.1126/science.1167345

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Male animals of many species deploy conditional reproductive strategies that contain distinct alternative phenotypes. Such facultatively expressed male tactics are assumed to be due to a single developmental threshold mechanism switching between the expression of two alternative phenotypes. However, we discovered a clade of dung beetles that commonly expresses two threshold mechanisms, resulting in three alternative phenotypes (male trimorphism). Once recognized, we found trimorphism in other beetle families that involves different types of male weapons. Evidence that insects assumed to be dimorphic can express three facultative male forms suggests that we need to adjust how we think about animal mating systems and the evolution of conditional strategies.

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