Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 857–873 | Cite as

Complex environmental effects on the expression of alternative reproductive phenotypes in the bulb mite

  • Isabel M. SmallegangeEmail author
Research Article


Understanding the evolution and maintenance of within-sex reproductive morphs, or alternative reproductive phenotypes (ARPs), requires in depth understanding of the proximate mechanisms that determine ARP expression. Most species express ARPs in complex ecological environments, yet little is know about how different environmental variables collectively affect ARP expression. Here, I investigated the influence of maternal and developmental nutrition and sire phenotype on ARP expression in bulb mites (Rhizoglyphus robini), where males are either fighters, able to kill other mites, or benign scramblers. In a factorial experiment, females were raised on a rich or a poor diet, and after maturation they were paired to a fighter or a scrambler. Their offspring were put on the rich or poor diet. Females on the rich diet increased investment into eggs when mated to a fighter, but suffered reduced longevity. Females indirectly affected offspring ARP expression as larger eggs developed into larger final instars, which were more likely to develop into a fighter. Final instar size, which also strongly depended on offspring nutrition, was the main cue for morph development: a switch point, or size threshold, existed where development switched from one phenotype to the other. Sire phenotype affected offspring phenotype, but only if offspring were on the poor diet, indicating a gene by environment interaction. Overall, the results revealed that complex environmental effects can underlie ARP expression, with differential maternal investment potentially amplifying genetic effects on offspring morphology. These effects can therefore play an important role in understanding how selection affects ARP expression and, like quantitative genetics models for continuous traits, should be incorporated into models of threshold traits.


Differential allocation hypothesis Environmentally cued threshold model Liability Life-history trade-offs Male attractiveness Reaction norm between age and size at maturity 



I thank Tim Coulson and Mark Roberts for discussion and comments, and The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research for funding (Rubicon Fellowship). All experimental work conducted in this study conforms to the legal requirements of the UK.

Supplementary material

10682_2010_9446_MOESM1_ESM.doc (64 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 65 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of BiologyImperial College LondonAscotUK

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