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Leg length and bristle density both necessary for water surface locomotion are genetically correlated in water striders

Citation

Finet, Cédric; Khila, Abderrahman (2022), Leg length and bristle density both necessary for water surface locomotion are genetically correlated in water striders, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.fbg79cns8

Abstract

Access to hitherto unexploited ecological opportunities is associated with phenotypic evolution and often results in significant lineage diversification. Yet, our understanding of the mechanisms underlying such adaptive traits remains limited.  Water striders have been able to exploit the water-air interface, primarily facilitated by changes in the density of hydrophobic bristles and a significant increase in leg length. These two traits are functionally correlated and are both necessary for generating efficient locomotion on the water surface. Whether bristle density and leg length have any cellular or developmental genetic mechanisms in common is unknown. Here, we combine comparative genomics and transcriptomics with functional RNAi assays to examine the developmental genetic and cellular mechanisms underlying the patterning of the bristles and the legs in Gerris buenoi and Mesovelia mulsanti, two species of water striders. We found that two gene duplication events in the genes beadex and taxi led to a functional expansion of the paralogs to affect bristle density and leg length. We also identified genes for which no function in bristle development has been previously described in other insects. Interestingly, most of these genes play a dual role in regulating bristle development and leg length. In addition, these genes play a role in regulating cell division. This result suggests that cell division may be a common mechanism through which these genes can simultaneously regulate leg length and bristle density. We propose that pleiotropy, by which gene function affects the development of multiple traits, may play a prominent role in facilitating access to unexploited ecological opportunities and species diversification.