CIE Spotlight: Experimental evolution reveals that population density does not affect moth signalling behaviour and antennal morphology

Kita A. and Matthew S.

Kita A. and Matthew S.

Authors: Kita R. Ashman, Kathryn B. McNamara, Matthew R. E. Symonds

Source: Evolutionary Ecology, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 1009–1021, December 2016

Brief summary of the paper: Population density can play a vital role in determining investment in reproductive behaviours and morphologies of invertebrates. Males reared in high-density environments, where competition is high but difficulties in locating mates are low, may invest more in reproductive structures associated with sperm competition such as testes, at the expense of those traits associated with mate location, such as antennae.

In species where females advertise for mates, such as most moths, a high-density environment may also lead to a reduction in pheromonal signalling (calling) length and frequency as a result of high mate abundance. While such responses have been shown at the phenotypically plastic level in moths, heritable evolutionary adaptations have seldom been tested, and studies of how population density influences pheromone signalling strategies are scarce.

Here we use behavioural assays and scanning electron microscopic measurements to test whether larval population density influences, at the genetic level, the ability of males to locate females and male investment into antennal morphology, in addition to its effect on the frequency and duration of female calling.

We used two replicated populations of the Indian meal moth Plodia interpunctella that had experimentally evolved under high or low population densities for 35 generations. We found no significant divergence in antennal morphology or mate acquisition behaviours between the two density populations.

These findings suggest that although population density has the ability to create plastic changes in both morphological and behavioural traits, this factor alone is unlikely to be causing evolutionary change in male and female signalling in this species.