Parental investment, sex-role reversal and their genomic footprints
Selection acts differently on males and females and drives their phenotypic dissimilarities. In conventional sex role species sexual selection acts stronger on males by shaping their ornaments and weaponry for gaining access to female mates. In several seahorse, seadragon and pipefish species (family Syngnathidae), however, females compete for access to mates, while males are the choosy sex and provide parental care during male pregnancy. This project will investigate how these species evolved under intensified sexual selection on females.
To this aim we will combine the identification of sex-specific sequences (sex chromosomes) and sex-biased gene expression in species with varying degrees of sexual conflict with an experimental evaluation of the role of hormones in regulating gene expression and sexual phenotypes. Benefitting from the repetitive evolution of sex-role reversal, this permits to test for patterns of novel and convergent sequence evolution within pipefishes and seahorses. Not only is male pregnancy a unique reproduction strategy of syngnathids but the structure sustaining embryonic attachment to the father’s body, the brood pouch, also evolved increased complexity several times within syngnathids. These repetitive evolutionary patterns allow for comparative studies of genome and transcriptome evolution and their physiological regulation that will contribute to our understanding of parental investment.
To do so, this project aims to characterize the genetic and endocrinological network of female- and maleness and distinguish it from the sex-role network building upon genomics, multi tissue transcriptomics as well as endocrinological manipulations.
This project will be in collaboration with Dr. Astrid Böhne, Comparative Vertebrate Genomics, Centre for molecular biodiversity research, Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig Bonn ZFMK, Leibniz Institute for Animal Biodiversity Bonn, Germany.