Rapid evolution of sex role specialization in a hermaphrodite under sex-limited selection

Anna K. Nordén, Steven A. Ramm, Jessica K. Abbott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The evolution of separate sexes from hermaphroditism is thought to have occurred independently many times, and may be linked to the evolution of sex chromosomes. Even though we have a good understanding of the theoretical steps in the evolution of sex chromosomes from a hermaphrodite ancestor, the initial stages are still hard to study in animals because many well-studied animal sex chromosome systems are old. We addressed this problem by experimentally selecting a hermaphrodite via sex-limited experimental evolution for several generations, simulating the early stages in the evolution of a sex chromosome. After 14 generations, a fitness assay revealed evidence of incipient sex role specialization in the female-selected lines, presumably reflecting the release from constraints usually imposed by selection on the other sex role. Importantly, however, this was not simply explained by morphology because testis and ovary sizes did not diverge among treatments. There was no evidence of a change in the male-selected lines. Our study shows that sex role specialization can occur rapidly as a result of sex-limited selection, which is consistent with genetic constraints between sex roles, and in line with the first predicted steps toward the evolution of a new sex chromosome system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1066-1076
JournalEvolution; international journal of organic evolution
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology

Free keywords

  • Macrostomum lignano
  • evolution of separate sexes
  • experimental evolution
  • gonad size
  • sex chromosomes
  • sexual dimorphism


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