Phenotypic Buffering in a Monogenean: Canalization and Developmental Stability in Shape and Size of the Haptoral Anchors of Ligophorus cephali (Monogenea: Dactylogyridae)

Phenotypic variation results from the balance between sources of variation and counteracting regulatory mechanisms. Canalization and developmental stability are two such mechanisms, acting at two different levels of regulation. The issue of whether or not they act concurrently as a common developmental buffering capacity has been subject to debate. We used geometric morphometrics to quantify the mechanisms that guarantee phenotypic constancy in the haptoral anchors of Ligophorus cephali. Canalization and developmental stability were appraised by estimating inter- and intra-individual variation, respectively, in size and shape of dorsal and ventral anchors. The latter variation was estimated as fluctuating asymmetry (FA) between anchor pairs. The general-buffering-capacity hypothesis was tested by two different methods based on correlations and Principal Components Analyses of the different components of size and shape variation. Evidence for FA in the dorsal and ventral anchors in both shape and size was found. Our analyses supported the hypothesis of a general developmental buffering capacity. The evidence was more compelling for shape than for size and, particularly, for the ventral anchors than for the dorsal ones. These results are in line with previous studies of dactylogyrids suggesting that ventral anchors secure a firmer, more permanent attachment, whereas dorsal anchors are more mobile. Because fixation to the host is crucial for survival in ectoparasites, we suggest that homeostatic development of the ventral anchors has been promoted to ensure the morphological constancy required for efficient attachment. Geometric morphometrics can be readily applied to other host-monogenean models, affording not only to disentangle the effects of canalization and developmental stability, as shown herein, but to further partition the environmental and genetic components of the former ​
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