Quantification of genital variation in males and females can inform our understanding of likely copulatory interactions and evolution of genital diversity. However, no studies have quantified genital shape variation within a single snake species or examined the shape and size of both the vaginal pouch and hemipenes. Here, we examine the shape and size of the genitalia of female and male diamondback water snakes, Nerodia rhombifer, using a three-dimensional automated landmark geometric morphometric approach on models of the lumen of the vaginal pouch and inflated hemipenes, applying these techniques for the first time to the genital shape of vertebrates. Vaginal pouch shape is significantly associated with body size and reproductive status. As females grow larger and become reproductive, the vaginal pouch enlarges, widens and becomes more bifurcated. In reproductive males, the shape of the hemipenes is also significantly associated with body size. As males grow larger, the hemipenes enlarge and widen; their bifurcation becomes more defined and the spines at the base become more prominent. Vaginal pouch and hemipenial centroid size are isometric with respect to body length. The centroid sizes of the hemipenes and vaginal pouch are not significantly different from one another, hence the genitalia match inmore »
Genital evolution can be driven by diverse selective pressures. Across taxa we see evidence of covariation between males and females, as well as divergent genital morphologies between closely related species. Quantitative analyses of morphological changes in coevolving male and female genitalia have not yet been shown in vertebrates. This study uses 2D and 3D geometric morphometrics to quantitatively compare the complex shapes of vaginal pouches and hemipenes across three species of watersnakes (the sister taxa Nerodia fasciata, N. sipedon, and a close relative N. rhombifer) to address the relationship between genital morphology and divergence time in a system where sexual conflict may have driven sexually antagonistic coevolution of genital traits. Our pairwise comparisons of shape differences across species show that the sister species have male and female genitalia that are significantly different from each other, but more similar to each other than to N. rhombifer. We also determine that the main axes of shape variation are the same for males and females, with changes that relate to deeper bilobation of the vaginal pouch and hemipenes. In males, the protrusion of the region of spines at the base of the hemipene trades off with the degree of bilobation, suggesting amelioration more »
- Publication Date:
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Journal Name:
- Integrative And Comparative Biology
- Page Range or eLocation-ID:
- p. 569-580
- Oxford University Press
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Examining the shape and size of female and male genitalia in snakes using three-dimensional geometric morphometrics
Asymmetric genitalia and lateralized mating behaviors occur in several taxa, yet whether asymmetric morphology in one sex correlates or coevolves with lateralized mating behavior in the other sex remains largely unexplored. While lateralized mating behaviors are taxonomically widespread, among mammals they are only known in the harbor porpoise (
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The lower reproductive tract of female mammals has several competing functions including mating, tract health maintenance, and parturition. Diverse vaginal anatomy suggests interactions between natural and sexual selection, yet despite its importance, female copulatory morphology remains under-studied. We undertook a comparative study across the species-rich mammalian order Chiroptera (bats) with a focus on the suborder Yangochiroptera (Vespertilioniformes) to examine how female vaginal features may have coevolved with male penis morphology to minimize mechanical damage to their tissues during copulation. The penis morphology is diverse, presenting great potential for post-copulatory sexual selection and coevolution with the female morphology, but vaginas have not been carefully examined. Here we test the hypotheses that vaginal thickness and collagen density have coevolved with features of the male penis, including the presence of spines and a baculum. We present histological data from females of 24 species from 7 families of bats, and corresponding data on male penis anatomy. We also examine the role of phylogenetic history in the morphological patterns we observe. We found evidence that female vaginal thickness has coevolved with the presence of penile spines, but not with baculum presence or width. Collagen density did not appear to covary with male penile features.more »
Despite their evolutionary and biomedical importance, studies of the morphology and function of female genitalia have continued to lag behind those of male genitalia. While studying female genitalia can be difficult because of their soft, deformable and internal nature, recent advances in imaging, geometric analyses of shape and mechanical testing have been made, allowing for a much greater understanding of the incredible diversity of form and function of female genitalia. Here, we summarize some of these methods, as well as discuss some big questions in the field that are beginning to be examined now, and will continue to benefit from further work, especially a comparative approach. Topics of further research include examination of the morphology of female genitalia in situ, in-depth anatomical work in many more species, studies of the interplay between natural and sexual selection in influencing features of vaginal morphology, how these diverse functions influence the mechanical properties of tissues, and studies of clitoris morphology and function across amniotes. Many other research topics related to female genitalia remain largely unexplored, and we hope that the papers in this issue will continue to inspire further research on female genitalia.
Selection that acts in a sex-specific manner causes the evolution of sexual dimorphism. Sex-specific phenotypic selection has been demonstrated in many taxa and can be in the same direction in the two sexes (differing only in magnitude), limited to one sex, or in opposing directions (antagonistic). Attempts to detect the signal of sex-specific selection from genomic data have confronted numerous difficulties. These challenges highlight the utility of “direct approaches,” in which fitness is predicted from individual genotype within each sex. Here, we directly measured selection on Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) in a natural population of the sexually dimorphic, dioecious plant, Silene latifolia. We measured flowering phenotypes, estimated fitness over one reproductive season, as well as survival to the next year, and genotyped all adults and a subset of their offspring for SNPs across the genome. We found that while phenotypic selection was congruent (fitness covaried similarly with flowering traits in both sexes), SNPs showed clear evidence for sex-specific selection. SNP-level selection was particularly strong in males and may involve an important gametic component (e.g., pollen competition). While the most significant SNPs under selection in males differed from those under selection in females, paternity selection showed a highly polygenic tradeoffmore »
Males and females typically differ phenotypically, a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism. These differences arise when selection on males differs from selection on females, either in magnitude or direction. Estimated relationships between traits and fitness indicate that sex-specific selection is widespread, occurring in both plants and animals, and explains why so many species exhibit sexual dimorphism. Finding the specific loci experiencing sex-specific selection is a challenging prospect but one worth undertaking given the extensive evolutionary consequences. Flowering plants with separate sexes are ideal organisms for such studies, given that the fitness of females can be estimated by counting the number of seeds they produce. Determination of fitness for males has been made easier as thousands of genetic markers can now be used to assign paternity to seeds. We undertook just such a study in S. latifolia, a short-lived, herbaceous plant. We identified loci under sex-specific selection in this species and found more loci affecting fitness in males than females. Importantly, loci with major effects on male fitness were distinct from the loci with major effects on females. We detected sexual antagonism only when considering the aggregate effect of many loci. Hence, even though males and females share the same genome, this does not necessarily impose a constraint on their independent evolution.