In the long-germ insect Drosophila melanogaster dorsoventral polarity is induced by localized Toll-receptor activation which leads to the formation of a nuclear gradient of the rel/ NF-kappaB protein Dorsal. Peak levels of nuclear Dorsal are found in a ventral stripe spanning the entire length of the blastoderm embryo allowing all segments and their dorsoventral subdivisions to be synchronously specified before gastrulation. We show that a nuclear Dorsal protein gradient of similar anteroposterior extension exists in the short-germ beetle, Tribolium castaneum, which forms most segments from a posterior growth zone after gastrulation. In contrast to Drosophila, (i) nuclear accumulation is first uniform and then becomes progressively restricted to a narrow ventral stripe, (ii) gradient refinement is accompanied by changes in the zygotic expression of the Tribolium Toll-receptor suggesting feedback regulation and, (iii) the gradient only transiently overlaps with the expression of a potential target, the Tribolium twist homolog, and does not repress Tribolium decapentaplegic. No nuclear Dorsal is seen in the cells of the growth zone of Tribolium embryos, indicating that here dorsoventral patterning occurs by a different mechanism. However, Dorsal is up-regulated and transiently forms a nuclear gradient in the serosa, a protective extraembryonic cell layer ultimately covering the whole embryo.