Sofia Casasa | Eduardo E. Zattara | Armin P. Moczek


Nutrition-responsive development is a ubiquitous and highly diversified example of phenotypic plasticity, yet its underlying molecular and developmental mechanisms and modes of evolutionary diversification remain poorly understood. We measured genome-wide transcription in three closely related species of horned beetles exhibiting strikingly diverse degrees of nutrition responsiveness in the development of male weaponry. We show that (1) counts of differentially expressed genes between low- and high-nutritional backgrounds mirror species-specific degrees of morphological nutrition responsiveness; (2) evolutionary exaggeration of morphological responsiveness is underlain by both amplification of ancestral nutrition-responsive gene expression and recruitment of formerly low nutritionally responsive genes; and (3) secondary loss of morphological responsiveness to nutrition coincides with a dramatic reduction in gene expression plasticity. Our results further implicate genetic accommodation of ancestrally high variability of gene expression plasticity in both exaggeration and loss of nutritional plasticity, yet reject a major role of taxon-restricted genes in the developmental regulation and evolution of nutritional plasticity.