Sexual dimorphism and heightened conditional expression in a sexually selected weapon in the Asian rhinoceros beetle

Robert Zinna, Douglas Emlen, Laura C. Lavine, Annika Johns, Hiroki Gotoh, Teruyuki Niimi, Ian Dworkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Among the most dramatic examples of sexual selection are the weapons used in battles between rival males over access to females. As with ornaments of female choice, the most “exaggerated” sexually selected weapons vary from male to male more widely than other body parts (hypervariability), and their growth tends to be more sensitive to nutritional state or physiological condition compared with growth of other body parts (“heightened” conditional expression). Here, we use RNAseq analysis to build on recent work exploring these mechanisms in the exaggerated weapons of beetles, by examining patterns of differential gene expression in exaggerated (head and thorax horns) and non-exaggerated (wings, genitalia) traits in the Asian rhinoceros beetle, Trypoxylus dichotomus. Our results suggest that sexually dimorphic expression of weaponry involves large-scale changes in gene expression, relative to other traits, while nutrition-driven changes in gene expression in these same weapons are less pronounced. However, although fewer genes overall were differentially expressed in high- vs. low-nutrition individuals, the number of differentially expressed genes varied predictably according to a trait's degree of condition dependence (head horn > thorax horn > wings > genitalia). Finally, we observed a high degree of similarity in direction of effects (vectors) for subsets of differentially expressed genes across both sexually dimorphic and nutritionally responsive growth. Our results are consistent with a common set of mechanisms governing sexual size dimorphism and condition dependence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5049-5072
Number of pages24
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • RNAseq
  • condition dependence
  • sexual dimorphism
  • sexual selection
  • weaponry


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