Post-mating selection has recently become recognized as a potentially powerful and general evolutionary force. The overall goal of the research is to understand the role of post-mating selection, which occurs when gametes from multiple males co-occur within the female reproductive tract, in the evolution of the striking diversity of male reproductive traits observed in the Animal Kingdom. The results will represent one of the first tests of the importance of this selection for morphological evolution, and should help define a novel route for trait diversification among species. Using Drosophila bipectinata (Diptera: Drosophilidae) as a model, the proposed research tests the fundamental hypothesis of the existence of a genetic correlation between a male-specific trait and fertilization efficiency. A second major goal is to uncover the physiological and genetic mechanisms, and their environmental sensitivity, that contribute to the maintenance of the remarkable evolutionarily potential of such secondary traits in animals.
The research will contribute to the resolution of long-standing problems in evolutionary biology: it will advance our understanding of the full scope of selection in evolution, and of the mechanisms contributing to the formation of reproductive barriers between populations and ultimately of new species. The results should inform applied disciplines such as agriculture where an understanding of how new species arise often can help predict and control the emergence of pest organisms. Because the research will examine the effects of ecologically relevant levels of environmental (thermal) stress on fitness functions, the results should also help predict the consequences of climate change. The effort will promote teaching, learning and training by involving undergraduate and graduate students, and a postdoctoral researcher, in the research and educational activities. There will be a substantive outreach effort in collaboration with the Cincinnati Nature Center where the PI will train and teach volunteer educators and the general public.