A masculinizing supergene underlies an exaggerated male reproductive morph in a spider

Frederik Hendrickx*, Zoë De Corte, Gontran Sonet, Steven M. Van Belleghem, Stephan Köstlbacher, Carl Vangestel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


In many species, individuals can develop into strikingly different morphs, which are determined by a simple Mendelian locus. How selection shapes loci that control complex phenotypic differences remains poorly understood. In the spider Oedothorax gibbosus, males develop either into a ‘hunched’ morph with conspicuous head structures or as a fast-developing ‘flat’ morph with a female-like appearance. We show that the hunched-determining allele contains a unique genomic fragment of approximately 3 megabases that is absent in the flat-determining allele. This fragment comprises dozens of genes that duplicated from genes found at the same as well as different chromosomes. All functional duplicates, including a duplicate of the key sexual differentiation regulatory gene doublesex, show male-specific expression, which illustrates their integrated role as a masculinizing supergene. Our findings demonstrate how extensive indel polymorphisms and duplications of regulatory genes may contribute to the evolution of co-adapted gene clusters, sex-limited reproductive morphs and the enigmatic evolution of exaggerated sexual traits in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-206
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
Early online date23 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


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