Morphological and genomic shifts in mole-rat ‘queens’ increase fecundity but reduce skeletal integrity

Rachel A. Johnston, Philippe Vullioud, Jack Thorley, Henry Kirveslahti, Leyao Shen, Sayan Mukherjee, Courtney M. Karner, Tim Clutton-Brock, Jenny Tung

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

In some mammals and many social insects, highly cooperative societies are characterized by reproductive division of labor, in which breeders and nonbreeders become behaviorally and morphologically distinct. While differences in behavior and growth between breeders and nonbreeders have been extensively described, little is known of their molecular underpinnings. Here, we investigate the consequences of breeding for skeletal morphology and gene regulation in highly cooperative Damaraland mole-rats. By experimentally assigning breeding ‘queen’ status versus nonbreeder status to age-matched littermates, we confirm that queens experience vertebral growth that likely confers advantages to fecundity. However, they also upregulate bone resorption pathways and show reductions in femoral mass, which predicts increased vulnerability to fracture. Together, our results show that, as in eusocial insects, reproductive division of labor in mole-rats leads to gene regulatory rewiring and extensive morphological plasticity. However, in mole-rats, concentrated reproduction is also accompanied by costs to bone strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere65760
JournaleLife
Volume10
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)

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