Repeated loss of variation in insect ovary morphology highlights the role of development in life-history evolution

Proc Biol Sci. 2021 May 12;288(1950):20210150. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.0150. Epub 2021 May 5.


The number of offspring an organism can produce is a key component of its evolutionary fitness and life history. Here we perform a test of the hypothesized trade-off between the number and size of offspring using thousands of descriptions of the number of egg-producing compartments in the insect ovary (ovarioles), a common proxy for potential offspring number in insects. We find evidence of a negative relationship between egg size and ovariole number when accounting for adult body size. However, in contrast to prior claims, we note that this relationship is not generalizable across all insect clades, and we highlight several factors that may have contributed to this size-number trade-off being stated as a general rule in previous studies. We reconstruct the evolution of the arrangement of cells that contribute nutrients and patterning information during oogenesis (nurse cells), and show that the diversification of ovariole number and egg size have both been largely independent of their presence or position within the ovariole. Instead, we show that ovariole number evolution has been shaped by a series of transitions between variable and invariant states, with multiple independent lineages evolving to have almost no variation in ovariole number. We highlight the implications of these invariant lineages on our understanding of the specification of ovariole number during development, as well as the importance of considering developmental processes in theories of life-history evolution.

Keywords: development; evolution; insect; morphology; ovary; variation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Insecta*
  • Ovary*

Associated data

  • Dryad/10.5061/dryad.59zw3r253
  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5401652