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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Viviparity and habitat restrictions may influence the evolution of male reproductive genes in tsetse fly (Glossina) species.

  • Author(s): Savini, Grazia;
  • Scolari, Francesca;
  • Ometto, Lino;
  • Rota-Stabelli, Omar;
  • Carraretto, Davide;
  • Gomulski, Ludvik M;
  • Gasperi, Giuliano;
  • Abd-Alla, Adly MM;
  • Aksoy, Serap;
  • Attardo, Geoffrey M;
  • Malacrida, Anna R
  • et al.


Glossina species (tsetse flies), the sole vectors of African trypanosomes, maintained along their long evolutionary history a unique reproductive strategy, adenotrophic viviparity. Viviparity reduces their reproductive rate and, as such, imposes strong selective pressures on males for reproductive success. These species live in sub-Saharan Africa, where the distributions of the main sub-genera Fusca, Morsitans, and Palpalis are restricted to forest, savannah, and riverine habitats, respectively. Here we aim at identifying the evolutionary patterns of the male reproductive genes of six species belonging to these three main sub-genera. We then interpreted the different patterns we found across the species in the light of viviparity and the specific habitat restrictions, which are known to shape reproductive behavior.


We used a comparative genomic approach to build consensus evolutionary trees that portray the selective pressure acting on the male reproductive genes in these lineages. Such trees reflect the long and divergent demographic history that led to an allopatric distribution of the Fusca, Morsitans, and Palpalis species groups. A dataset of over 1700 male reproductive genes remained conserved over the long evolutionary time scale (estimated at 26.7 million years) across the genomes of the six species. We suggest that this conservation may result from strong functional selective pressure on the male imposed by viviparity. It is noteworthy that more than half of these conserved genes are novel sequences that are unique to the Glossina genus and are candidates for selection in the different lineages.


Tsetse flies represent a model to interpret the evolution and differentiation of male reproductive biology under different, but complementary, perspectives. In the light of viviparity, we must take into account that these genes are constrained by a post-fertilization arena for genomic conflicts created by viviparity and absent in ovipositing species. This constraint implies a continuous antagonistic co-evolution between the parental genomes, thus accelerating inter-population post-zygotic isolation and, ultimately, favoring speciation. Ecological restrictions that affect reproductive behavior may further shape such antagonistic co-evolution.

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