Reproductive traits experience high levels of selection because of their direct ties to fitness, often resulting in rapid adaptive evolution. Much of the work in this area has focused on male reproductive traits. However, a more comprehensive understanding of female reproductive adaptations and their relationship to male characters is crucial to uncover the relative roles of sexual cooperation and conflict in driving co-evolutionary dynamics between the sexes. We focus on the physiology of a complex female reproductive adaptation in butterflies and moths: a stomach-like organ in the female reproductive tract called the bursa copulatrix that digests the male ejaculate (spermatophore). Little is known about how the bursa digests the spermatophore. We characterized bursa proteolytic capacity in relation to female state in the polyandrous butterfly Pieris rapae. We found that the virgin bursa exhibits extremely high levels of proteolytic activity. Furthermore, in virgin females, bursal proteolytic capacity increases with time since eclosion and ambient temperature, but is not sensitive to the pre-mating social environment. Post copulation, bursal proteolytic activity decreases rapidly before rebounding toward the end of a mating cycle, suggesting active female regulation of proteolysis and/or potential quenching of proteolysis by male ejaculate constituents. Using transcriptomic and proteomic approaches, we report identities for nine proteases actively transcribed by bursal tissue and/or expressed in the bursal lumen that may contribute to observed bursal proteolysis. We discuss how these dynamic physiological characteristics may function as female adaptations resulting from sexual conflict over female remating rate in this polyandrous butterfly.
The authors declare no competing or financial interests.
Conceived and designed the experiments: M.S.P., N.I.M., A.B.D. and N.L.C. Performed the experiments: M.S.P., A.B.D. and C.M. Analyzed the data: M.S.P., N.I.M., C.M. and N.L.C. Interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript: M.S.P., N.I.M., A.B.D., C.M. and N.L.C.
This project used the Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Center and University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Cancer Biomarker Facility, which are supported, in part, by NCI Grant P30CA047904. We would like to thank the University of Pittsburgh for providing funding to support this project.
- © 2015. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd