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Title: Divergent Genital Morphologies and Female–Male Covariation in Watersnakes

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 » of sexual conflict, perhaps driven by changes in the relative size of the entrance of the vaginal pouch that could have made spines less effective.

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Award ID(s):
1656138 2042260
Publication Date:
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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