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Background: Animals use information from their environment to make decisions, ultimately to maximize their fitness. The nematode C. elegans has a pheromone signalling system, which hitherto has principally been thought to be used by worms in deciding whether or not to arrest their development as larvae. Recent studies have suggested that this pheromone can have other roles in the C. elegans life cycle. Results: Here we demonstrate a new role for the C. elegans pheromone, showing that it accelerates hermaphrodites' reproductive rate, a phenomenon which we call pheromone-dependent reproductive plasticity (PDRP). We also find that pheromone accelerates larval growth rates, but this depends on a live bacterial food source, while PDRP does not. Different C. elegans strains all show PDRP, though the magnitude of these effects differ among the strains, which is analogous to the diversity of arrested larval phenotypes that this pheromone also induces. Using a selection experiment we also show that selection for PDRP or for larval arrest affects both the target and the non-target trait, suggesting that there is cross-talk between these two pheromonedependent traits. Conclusions: Together, these results show that C. elegans' pheromone is a signal that acts at two key life cycle points, controlling alternative larval fates and affecting adult hermaphrodites' reproduction. More broadly, these results suggest that to properly understand and interpret the biology of pheromone signalling in C. elegans and other nematodes, the life-history biology of these organisms in their natural environment needs to be considered.
Viney, M., Wharam, B., & Weldon, L. (2017). Pheromone modulates two phenotypically plastic traits - adult reproduction and larval diapause - in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 17, . https://doi.org/10.1186/s12862-017-1033-9