Evidence of developmental niche construction in dung beetles: effects on growth, scaling and reproductive success

Ecol Lett. 2017 Nov;20(11):1353-1363. doi: 10.1111/ele.12830. Epub 2017 Sep 24.


Niche construction occurs when organisms modify their environments and alter selective conditions through their physiology and behaviours. Such modifications can bias phenotypic variation and enhance organism-environment fit. Yet few studies exist that experimentally assess the degree to which environmental modifications shape developmental and fitness outcomes, how their influences may differ among species and identify the underlying proximate mechanisms. Here, we experimentally eliminate environmental modifications from the developmental environment of Onthophagus dung beetles. We show that these modifications (1) differentially influence growth among species, (2) consistently shape scaling relationships in fitness-related traits, (3) are necessary for the maintenance of sexual dimorphism, (4) influence reproductive success among females of at least one species and (5) implicate larval cultivation of an external rumen as a possible mechanism for environmental modification. Our results present evidence that Onthophagus larvae engage in niche construction, and that this is a fundamental component of beetle development and fitness.

Keywords: Onthophagus; developmental plasticity; developmental symbiosis; ecological inheritance; horned beetles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Coleoptera / genetics
  • Coleoptera / growth & development*
  • Coleoptera / physiology*
  • Female
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Male
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction
  • Sex Characteristics

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.nn1rk