Trichogramma evanescens parasitic wasps show large phenotypic plasticity in brain and body size, resulting in a 5-fold difference in brain volume among genetically identical sister wasps. Brain volume scales linearly with body volume in these wasps. This isometric brain scaling forms an exception to Haller's rule, which states that small animals have relatively larger brains than large animals. The large plasticity in brain size may be facilitated by plasticity in neuron size, in the number of neurons, or both. Here, we investigated whether brain isometry requires plasticity in the number and size of monoaminergic neurons that express serotonin (5HT), octopamine (OA), and dopamine (DA). Genetically identical small and large T. evanescens appear to have the same number of 5HT-, OA-, and DA-like immunoreactive cell bodies in their brains, but these cell bodies differ in diameter. This indicates that brain isometry can be facilitated by plasticity in the size of monoaminergic neurons, rather than plasticity in numbers of monoaminergic neurons. Selection pressures on body miniaturization may have resulted in the evolution of miniaturized neural pathways that allow even the smallest wasps to find suitable hosts. Plasticity in the size of neural components may be among the mechanisms that underlie isometric brain scaling while maintaining cognitive abilities in the smallest individuals.
- Confocal laser scanning microscopy