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Data for: Sexual conflict drives micro- and macroevolution of sexual dimorphism in immunity

Cite this dataset

Berger, David et al. (2021). Data for: Sexual conflict drives micro- and macroevolution of sexual dimorphism in immunity [Dataset]. Dryad.



Sexual dimorphism in immunity is believed to reflect sex-differences in reproductive strategies and trade-offs between competing life history demands. Sexual selection can have major effects on mating rates and sex-specific costs of mating and may thereby influence sex-differences in immunity as well as associated host-pathogen dynamics. Yet, experimental evidence linking the mating system to evolved sexual dimorphism in immunity are scarce and the direct effects of mating rate on immunity are not well established. Here, we use transcriptomic analyses, experimental evolution and phylogenetic comparative methods to study the association between the mating system and sexual dimorphism in immunity in seed beetles, where mating causes internal injuries in females.


We demonstrate that female phenoloxidase (PO) activity, involved in wound healing and defence against parasitic infections, is elevated relative to males. This difference is accompanied by concomitant sex-differences in the expression of genes in the pro-phenoloxidase activating cascade. We document substantial phenotypic plasticity in female PO activity in response to mating and show that experimental evolution under enforced monogamy (resulting in low remating rates and sexual conflict relative to natural polygamy) rapidly decreases female (but not male) PO activity. Moreover, monogamous females have evolved increased tolerance to bacterial infection unrelated to mating, implying that female responses to costly mating may trade off with other aspects of immune defence, an hypothesis which broadly accords with the documented sex differences in gene expression. Finally, female (but not male) PO activity shows correlated evolution with the perceived harmfulness of male genitalia across 12 species of seed beetles, suggesting that sexual conflict has a significant influence on sexual dimorphisms in immunity in this group of insects.


Our study provides insights into the links between sexual conflict and sexual dimorphism in immunity and suggests that selection pressures moulded by mating interactions can lead to a sex-specific mosaic of immune responses with important implications for host-pathogen dynamics in sexually reproducing organisms.


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Swedish Research Council, Award: 2015-05223

Swedish Research Council, Award: 2019-05038

European Research Council, Award: AdG-294333

Science and Engineering Research Board, Award: ECR/2017/003370