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The ontogeny of sexual size dimorphism of a moth: when do males and females grow apart?
Sexual dimorphism in body size (sexual size dimorphism) is common in many species. The sources of selection that generate the independent evolution of adult male and female size have been investigated extensively by evolutionary biologists, but how and when females and males grow apart during ontogeny is poorly understood. Here we use the hawkmoth, Manduca sexta, to examine when sexual size dimorphism arises by measuring body mass every day during development. We further investigated whether environmental variables influence the ontogeny of sexual size dimorphism by raising moths on three different diet qualities (poor, medium and high). We found that size dimorphism arose during early larval development on the highest quality food treatment but it arose late in larval development when raised on the medium quality food. This female-biased dimorphism (females larger) increased substantially from the pupal-to-adult stage in both treatments, a pattern that appears to be common in Lepidopterans. Although dimorphism appeared in a few stages when individuals were raised on the poorest quality diet, it did not persist such that male and female adults were the same size. This demonstrates that the environmental conditions that insects are raised in can affect the growth trajectories of males and females differently and thus when dimorphism arises or disappears during development. We conclude that the development of sexual size dimorphism in M. sexta occurs during larval development and continues to accumulate during the pupal/adult stages, and that environmental variables such as diet quality can influence patterns of dimorphism in adults.
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