Diet alters male horn allometry in the beetle Onthophagus acuminatus (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae)

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Darwin considered the horns of male beetles to be among the most striking examples of sexual selection. As with antlers in deer or elk, beetle horns scale positively with male body size, with the result that large males have disproportionately longer horns than small males. It is generally assumed that such scaling relationships ('static allometries') are insensitive to short-term changes in the environment, and for this reason they are regularly used as diagnostic attributes of populations or species. Here I report breeding experiments on horned beetles that demonstrate that the scaling relationship between male horn length and body size changes when larval nutrition changes. Males reared on a low-quality diet had longer horn lengths at any given body size than sibling males reared on a high-quality diet. Such 'allometry plasticity' may explain seasonal changes observed in this same scaling relationship in a natural population. These experiments demonstrate that scaling relationships of sexually selected traits can respond facultatively to variation in the environment, thereby revealing a new mechanism by which males regulate the production of exaggerated secondary sexual traits.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)567-574
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1381
StatePublished - 1997


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