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Title: Comparative analysis of phenotypic plasticity sheds light on the evolution and molecular underpinnings of locust phase polyphenism

Locusts exhibit one of nature’s most spectacular examples of complex phenotypic plasticity, in which changes in density cause solitary and cryptic individuals to transform into gregarious and conspicuous locusts forming large migrating swarms. We investigated how these coordinated alternative phenotypes might have evolved by studying the Central American locust and three closely related non-swarming grasshoppers in a comparative framework. By experimentally isolating and crowding during nymphal development, we induced density-dependent phenotypic plasticity and quantified the resulting behavioural, morphological, and molecular reaction norms. All four species exhibited clear plasticity, but the individual reaction norms varied among species and showed different magnitudes. Transcriptomic responses were species-specific, but density-responsive genes were functionally similar across species. There were modules of co-expressed genes that were highly correlated with plastic reaction norms, revealing a potential molecular basis of density-dependent phenotypic plasticity. These findings collectively highlight the importance of studying multiple reaction norms from a comparative perspective.

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Publication Date:
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Scientific Reports
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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  2. Abstract

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