NCBI ROFL: You know what they say about barnacles with long legs…

By ncbi rofl | June 10, 2011 7:00 pm

Modular phenotypic plasticity: divergent responses of barnacle penis and feeding leg form to variation in density and wave-exposure.

“Traits can evolve both in response to direct selection and in response to indirect selection on other linked traits. Although the evolutionary significance of coupled traits (e.g., through shared components of developmental pathways, or through competition for shared developmental resources) is now well accepted, we know comparatively little about how developmental coupling may restrict the independent responses of two or more phenotypically plastic traits in response to conflicting environmental cues. Such studies are important because coupled development, if present, could act as an important limit to the evolution of functionally independent plasticity in multiple traits. I tested whether developmental coupling can restrict the direction of plastic responses by studying how penis form and leg form-both highly plastic traits of barnacles-varied in response to differences in conspecific density and water velocity. Penis length and leg length in Balanus glandula varied in parallel with variation in wave-exposure but varied in opposite directions with variation in conspecific density. This study represents one of the rare tests of developmental coupling between multiple (demonstrably adaptive) plastic traits: Barnacle legs and penises appear to exhibit modular development that can respond concurrently-yet in independent directions-to conflicting environmental cues.”

Bonus figure from the full text: “Covariation between penis and feeding leg form as a function of wave-exposure and adult barnacle density in Barkley Sound, BC, Canada (data for the replicate sites at each exposure level are pooled)”

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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl

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