, Volume 24, Issue 5, pp 975-983
Date: 22 Jun 2010

Is melanism in pygmy grasshoppers induced by crowding?

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Color polymorphisms in animals may result from plasticity of the developmental system in response to genetic cues in the form of allelic variation at polymorphic loci, environmental cues, or a combination of genetic and environmental cues. An increased understanding of the evolution of color polymorphisms requires better knowledge of when we should expect genetic and environmental cues respectively to influence phenotype determination. Theory posits that the developmental systems of organisms should evolve sensitivity to such cues that most accurately predict coming selective conditions. Pygmy grasshoppers (Orthoptera, Tetrigidae) vary in color pattern within and among populations and show fire melanism, i.e., an increased frequency of black and dark colored phenotypes in high density populations inhabiting fire-ravaged areas. We examined if the population density experienced by individuals during development influenced the phenotypic expression of color pattern in Tetrix subulata. Individuals were experimentally reared either in solitude, at intermediate density or under crowded conditions. We found that color patterns of experimental individuals were independent of rearing density but strongly influenced by maternal color pattern. High population density and crowding may not constitute reliable predictors of the selective regime that characterizes post-fire environments.