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Han, Chang S.; Tuni, Cristina; Ulcik, Jakob and Dingemanse, Niels J. (2018): Increased developmental density decreases the magnitude of indirect genetic effects expressed during agonistic interactions in an insect. In: Evolution, Vol. 72, No. 11: pp. 2435-2448

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The expression of aggression depends not only on the direct genetic effects (DGEs) of an individual's genes on its own behavior, but also on indirect genetic effects (IGEs) caused by heritable phenotypes expressed by social partners. IGEs can affect the amount of heritable variance on which selection can act. Despite the important roles of IGEs in the evolutionary process, it remains largely unknown whether the strength of IGEs varies across life stages or competitive regimes. Based on manipulations of nymphal densities and > 3000 pair-wise aggression tests across multiple life stages, we experimentally demonstrate that IGEs on aggression are stronger in field crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus) that develop at lower densities than in those that develop at higher densities, and that these effects persist with age. The existence of density-dependent IGEs implies that social interactions strongly determine the plastic expression of aggression when competition for resources is relaxed. A more competitive (higher density) rearing environment may fail to provide crickets with sufficient resources to develop social cognition required for strong IGEs. The contribution of IGEs to evolutionary responses was greater at lower densities. Our study thereby demonstrates the importance of considering IGEs in density-dependent ecological and evolutionary processes.

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