Adaptive plasticity of the penis in a simultaneous hermaphrodite

TitleAdaptive plasticity of the penis in a simultaneous hermaphrodite
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2009
AuthorsHoch, M. J.
Pagination1946 - 1953
Date Published08/2009

Acorn barnacles are important model organisms for the study of sex allocation. They are sessile, nonselfing hermaphrodites that copulate with penises that have been suggested to be phenotypically plastic. On wave-exposed shores, Semibalanus balanoides develop penises with relatively greater diameter whereas in wave-protected sites they are thinner. A reciprocal transplant experiment between wave-exposed and protected sites tested whether these exposure-specific morphologies have adaptive value. Mating success was compared over a range of distances to compare the ability of barnacles to reach mates. Barnacles that grew in the wave-protected site and mated in the wave-protected site fertilized more broods at increasing distances than those transplanted to the wave-exposed site. For barnacles that developed in the wave-exposed site, there was no difference in the ability to fertilize neighbors between sites of differing exposure. This study demonstrates the adaptive value of plasticity in penis morphology. The results suggest a trade-off between development of a penis adapted to wave exposure and the ability to fertilize distant mates. Barnacles in different physical environments are limited by different factors, which may limit numbers of potential mates, constrain optimal sex allocation strategies and alter reproductive behavior.