Ecological conditions shape (adaptive) responses at the molecular, anatomical, and behavioral levels. Understanding these responses is key to predict the outcomes of intra- and inter-specific competitions and the evolutionary trajectory of populations. Recent technological advances have enabled large-scale molecular (e.g., RNAseq) and behavioral (e.g., computer vision) studies, but the study of anatomical responses to ecological conditions has lagged behind. Here, we highlight the role of X-ray micro-computed tomography (micro-CT) in generating in vivo and ex vivo 3D imaging of anatomical structures, which can enable insights into adaptive anatomical responses to ecological environments. To demonstrate the application of this method, we manipulated the larval density of Drosophila melanogaster Meigen flies and applied micro-CT to investigate the anatomical responses of the male reproductive organs to varying intraspecific competition levels during development. Our data is suggestive of two classes of anatomical responses which broadly agree with sexual selection theory: increasing larval density led to testes and ejaculatory duct to be overall larger (in volume), while the volume of accessory glands and, to a lesser extent, ejaculatory duct decreased. These two distinct classes of anatomical responses might reflect shared developmental regulation of the structures of the male reproductive system. Overall, we show that micro-CT can be an important tool to advance the study of anatomical (adaptive) responses to ecological environments.
We would like to thank Dr Stuart Wigby for his useful comments in the early version of this manuscript.
JM receives support from the Royal Society start-up grant (RGS\R2\202220). MVC receives support from the Brazilian National Research Council CNPq and from FAPERJ (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Rio de Janeiro).