Fecundity is a fundamental determinant of fitness, yet the proximate developmental and physiological mechanisms that enable its often rapid evolution in natural populations are poorly understood. Here, we investigated two populations of the dung beetle Onthophagus taurus that were established in exotic ranges in the early 1970s. These populations are subject to drastically different levels of resource competition in the field, and have diverged dramatically in female fecundity. Specifically, Western Australian O. taurus experience high levels of resource competition, and exhibit greatly elevated reproductive output compared to beetles from the Eastern US, where resource competition is minimal and female fecundity is low. We compared patterns of ovarian maturation, relative investment into and timing of egg production, and potential trade-offs between ovarian investment and the duration of larval development and adult body size between populations representative of both exotic ranges. We found that the rapid divergence in fecundity between exotic populations is associated with striking differences in several aspects of ovarian development: (1) Western Australian females exhibit accelerated ovarian development, (2) produce more eggs, (3) bigger eggs, and (4) start laying eggs earlier compared to their Eastern US counterparts. At the same time, divergence in ovarian maturation patterns occurred alongside changes in (5) larval developmental time, and (6) adult body size, and (7) mass. Western Australian females take longer to complete larval development and, surprisingly, emerge into smaller yet heavier adults than size-matched Eastern US females. We discuss our results in the context of the evolutionary developmental biology of fecundity in exotic populations. J. Exp. Zool. 323A: 679–688, 2015. © 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Macagno ALM, Beckers OM, Moczek AP. 2015. Differentiation of ovarian development and the evolution of fecundity in rapidly diverging exotic beetle populations. J. Exp. Zool. 323A:679-688.