In sexual species, gametes have to find and recognize one another. Signaling is thus central to sexual reproduction and involves a rapidly evolving interplay of shared and divergent interests [1-4]. Among Caenorhabditis nematodes, three species have evolved self-fertilization, changing the balance of intersexual relations . Males in these androdioecious species are rare, and the evolutionary interests of hermaphrodites dominate. Signaling has shifted accordingly, with females losing behavioral responses to males [6, 7] and males losing competitive abilities [8, 9]. Males in these species also show variable same-sex and autocopulatory mating behaviors [6, 10]. These behaviors could have evolved by relaxed selection on male function, accumulation of sexually antagonistic alleles that benefit hermaphrodites and harm males [5, 11], or neither of these, because androdioecy also reduces the ability of populations to respond to selection [12-14]. We have identified the genetic cause of a male-male mating behavior exhibited by geographically dispersed C. Elegans isolates, wherein males mate with and deposit copulatory plugs on one another's excretory pores. We find a single locus of major effect that is explained by segregation of a loss-of-function mutation in an uncharacterized gene, plep-1, expressed in the excretory cell in both sexes. Males homozygous for the plep-1 mutation have excretory pores that are attractive or receptive to copulatory behavior of other males. Excretory pore plugs are injurious and hermaphrodite activity is compromised in plep-1 mutants, so the allele might be unconditionally deleterious, persisting in the population because the species' androdioecious mating system limits the reach of selection.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the NIH (R01 GM089972 to M.V.R. and F32 HD065442 to A.S.C.), the Zegar Family Foundation, and New York University. We thank N. Ringstad and A. Paaby for comments and Zina Deretsky for the illustration in Figure 1 B.
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