Growth and patterning are evolutionarily dissociated in the vestigial wing discs of workers of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta.
Over the last decade, it has become clear that organismal form is largely determined by developmental and evolutionary changes in the growth and pattern formation of tissues. Yet, there is little known about how these two integrated processes respond to environmental cues or how they evolve relative to one another. Here, we present the discovery of vestigial wing imaginal discs in worker larvae of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta. These vestigial wing discs are present in all worker larvae, which is uncommon for a species with a large worker size distribution. Furthermore, the growth trajectory of these vestigial discs is distinct from all of the ant species examined to date because they grow at a rate slower than the leg discs. We predicted that the growth trajectory of the vestigial wing discs would be mirrored by evolutionary changes in their patterning. We tested this prediction by examining the expression of three patterning genes, extradenticle, ultrabithorax, and engrailed, known to underlie the wing polyphenism in ants. Surprisingly, the expression patterns of these three genes in the vestigial wing discs was the same as those found in ant species with different worker size distributions and wing disc growth than fire ants. We conclude that growth and patterning are evolutionarily dissociated in the vestigial wing discs of S. invicta because patterning in these discs is conserved, whereas their growth trajectories are not. The evolutionary dissociation of growth and patterning may be an important feature of gene networks that underlie polyphenic traits.
Bowsher, JH; Wray, GA; Abouheif, E
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