Morphological and genomic shifts in mole-rat 'queens' increase fecundity but reduce skeletal integrity.
In some mammals and many social insects, highly cooperative societies are characterized by reproductive division of labor, in which breeders and nonbreeders become behaviorally and morphologically distinct. While differences in behavior and growth between breeders and nonbreeders have been extensively described, little is known of their molecular underpinnings. Here, we investigate the consequences of breeding for skeletal morphology and gene regulation in highly cooperative Damaraland mole-rats. By experimentally assigning breeding 'queen' status versus nonbreeder status to age-matched littermates, we confirm that queens experience vertebral growth that likely confers advantages to fecundity. However, they also upregulate bone resorption pathways and show reductions in femoral mass, which predicts increased vulnerability to fracture. Together, our results show that, as in eusocial insects, reproductive division of labor in mole-rats leads to gene regulatory rewiring and extensive morphological plasticity. However, in mole-rats, concentrated reproduction is also accompanied by costs to bone strength.
Johnston, RA; Vullioud, P; Thorley, J; Kirveslahti, H; Shen, L; Mukherjee, S; Karner, CM; Clutton-Brock, T; Tung, J
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