A costly chemical trait: phenotypic condition dependence of cuticular hydrocarbons in a dung beetle

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Chemical traits are increasingly recognized as important cues used in mate choice. For example, the cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs) of insects have been shown to influence mating success in a range of taxa. Less is known, however, about how CHCs are expressed in proportion to an individual's condition, and consequently whether CHCs can function as condition-dependent signals of quality. We investigated this question using the dung beetle, Onthophagus taurus. CHCs are subject to sexual selection in this species through mate choice. A dietary manipulation revealed condition dependence of CHC expression for both sexes: dietary restriction decreased overall CHC production and altered the composition of CHCs. Furthermore, CHC production was associated with a measure of condition in beetles fed a limited diet but not those fed ad libitum. These results implicate a resource cost to CHC production that is likely to result in trade-offs with other fitness components in this species, as these respond similarly to a dietary restriction. The CHC profiles showed sexual dimorphism: males produced more CHCs and the sexes differed in the blend of compounds they produced. There was evidence for a male dimorphism in the CHC profile, in line with the presence of the alternative reproductive tactics (minor sneaks and major fighters) in this species. However, rather than mimicking a female CHC profile, minor males differed more from females than major males. Our results suggest that CHCs are a costly trait in O. taurus that has the potential to act as a condition-dependent signal of quality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1772-1781
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


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