The hormonal basis of variation in life-history traits is a poorly studied topic in life-history evolution. An important step in identifying the endocrine-genetic causes of life-history variation is documenting statistical and functional associations between hormone titers and genotypes/phenotypes that vary in life-history traits. To this end, we compared the blood ecdysteroid titer and the mass of the ovaries during the first week of adulthood among a flight-capable morph and two flightless morphs of the wing-polymorphic cricket Gryllus firmus. Ecdysteroids are a group of structurally related hormones that regulate many important aspects of reproduction in insects. Both the ecdysteroid titer and ovarian mass were significantly higher in each of two flightless morphs compared with the flight-capable morph throughout the first week of adulthood. Genetically based differences in the ecdysteroid titer and ovarian mass between morphs from different selected lines were similar to phenotypically based differences among morphs from the same control (unselected) lines. By day 7 of adulthood, ovaries were typically 200–400% larger and the ecdysteroid titer was 60–300% higher in flightless versus the flight-capable morph. In addition, highly significant, positive, phenotypic correlations were observed between the ecdysteroid titer and ovarian mass in pooled samples of the two flightless and flight-capable crickets from control lines or from selected lines. The ecdysteroid titer was sufficiently elevated in the flightless morphs to account for their elevated ovarian growth. This is the first direct documentation that naturally occurring phenotypes/genotypes that differ in early fecundity, a key life-history trait, also differ phenotypically and genetically in the titer of a key reproductive hormone that potentially regulates that trait.
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Vol. 55 • No. 3