Evolution of the elaborate male intromittent organ of Xiphophorus fishes

Julia C. Jones, Carmelo Fruciano, Anja Keller, Manfred Schartl, Axel Meyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Downloads (Pure)


Internally fertilizing animals show a remarkable diversity in male genital morphology that is associated with sexual selection, and these traits are thought to be evolving particularly rapidly. Male fish in some internally fertilizing species have “gonopodia,” highly modified anal fins that are putatively important for sexual selection. However, our understanding of the evolution of genital diversity remains incomplete. Contrary to the prediction that male genital traits evolve more rapidly than other traits, here we show that gonopodial traits and other nongonopodial traits exhibit similar evolutionary rates of trait change and also follow similar evolutionary models in an iconic genus of poeciliid fish (Xiphophorus spp.). Furthermore, we find that both mating and nonmating natural selection mechanisms are unlikely to be driving the diverse Xiphophorus gonopodial morphology. Putative holdfast features of the male genital organ do not appear to be influenced by water flow, a candidate selective force in aquatic habitats. Additionally, interspecific divergence in gonopodial morphology is not significantly higher between sympatric species, than between allopatric species, suggesting that male genitals have not undergone reproductive character displacement. Slower rates of evolution in gonopodial traits compared with a subset of putatively sexually selected nongenital traits suggest that different selection mechanisms may be acting on the different trait types. Further investigations of this elaborate trait are imperative to determine whether it is ultimately an important driver of speciation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7207-7220
Number of pages14
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number20
Early online date17 Sept 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016


  • Male intromittent organ
  • reproductive character displacement
  • sexual selection
  • species diversification
  • Xiphophorus fish


Dive into the research topics of 'Evolution of the elaborate male intromittent organ of Xiphophorus fishes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this