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Data from: Evidence for sex-specific selection in brain: a case study of the nine-spined stickleback

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Herczeg, Gabor; Välimäki, Kaisa; Gonda, Abigél; Merilä, Juha (2014). Data from: Evidence for sex-specific selection in brain: a case study of the nine-spined stickleback [Dataset]. Dryad.


Theory predicts that the sex making greater investments into reproductive behaviours demands higher cognitive ability, and as a consequence, larger brains or brain parts. Further, the resulting sexual dimorphism can differ between populations adapted to different environments, or among individuals developing under different environmental conditions. In the nine-spine stickleback (Pungitius pungitius), males perform nest building, courtship, territory defence and parental care, whereas females perform mate choice and produce eggs. Also, predation-adapted marine and competition-adapted pond populations have diverged in a series of ecologically relevant traits, including the level of phenotypic plasticity. Here, we studied sexual dimorphism in brain size and architecture in nine-spined stickleback from marine and pond populations reared in a factorial experiment with predation and food treatments in a common garden experiment. Males had relatively larger brains, larger telencephala, cerebella and hypothalami (6–16% divergence) than females, irrespective of habitat. Females tended to have larger bulbi olfactorii than males (13%) in the high food treatment, whereas no such difference was found in the low food treatment. The strong sexual dimorphism in brain architecture implies that the different reproductive allocation strategies (behaviour vs. egg production) select for different investments into the costly brains between males and females. The lack of habitat dependence in brain sexual dimorphism suggests that the sex-specific selection forces on brains differ only negligibly between habitats. Although significance of the observed sex-specific brain plasticity in the size of bulbus olfactorius remains unclear, it demonstrates the potential for sex-specific neural plasticity.

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