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The evolution of plasticity of dauer larva developmental arrest in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

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Diaz, S Anaid 
Viney, Mark 


Organisms can end up in unfavourable conditions and to survive this they have evolved various strategies. Some organisms, including nematodes, survive unfavourable conditions by undergoing developmental arrest. The model nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has a developmental choice between two larval forms, and it chooses to develop into the arrested dauer larva form in unfavourable conditions (specifically, a lack of food and high population density, indicated by the concentration of a pheromone). Wild C. elegans isolates vary extensively in their dauer larva arrest phenotypes, and this prompts the question of what selective pressures maintain such phenotypic diversity? To investigate this we grew C. elegans in four different environments, consisting of different combinations of cues that can induce dauer larva development: two combinations of food concentration (high and low) in the presence or absence of a dauer larva-inducing pheromone. Five generations of artificial selection of dauer larvae resulted in an overall increase in dauer larva formation in most selection regimes. The presence of pheromone in the environment selected for twice the number of dauer larvae, compared with environments not containing pheromone. Further, only a high food concentration environment containing pheromone increased the plasticity of dauer larva formation. These evolutionary responses also affected the timing of the worms' reproduction. Overall, these results give an insight into the environments that can select for different plasticities of C. elegans dauer larva arrest phenotypes, suggesting that different combinations of environmental cues can select for the diversity of phenotypically plastic responses seen in C. elegans.



C. elegans, dauer larvae, evolution, phenotypic plasticity, selection experiment

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Ecol Evol

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We would like to thank Henrique Teotonio for the gift of the G140.A population, Louise Hughes and Laura Weldon for technical help, two anonymous reviewers for their comments, and NERC for funding.