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The plastic fly: the effect of sustained fluctuations in adult food supply on life-history traits

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Joost Van Den Heuvel, Emeritus Professor Thomas Kirkwood, Dr Daryl Shanley



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND).


Many adult traits in Drosophila melanogaster show phenotypic plasticity, and the effects of diet on traits such as lifespan and reproduction are well explored. Although plasticity in response to food is still present in older flies, it is unknown how sustained environmental variation affects life-history traits. Here, we explore how such life-long fluctuations of food supply affect weight and survival in groups of flies and affect weight, survival and reproduction in individual flies. In both experiments, we kept adults on constant high or low food and compared these to flies that experienced fluctuations of food either once or twice a week. For these yoyo' groups, the initial food level and the duration of the dietary variation differed during adulthood, creating four yoyo' fly groups. In groups of flies, survival and weight were affected by adult food. However, for individuals, survival and reproduction, but not weight, were affected by adult food, indicating that single and group housing of female flies affects life-history trajectories. Remarkably, both the manner and extent to which life-history traits varied in relation to food depended on whether flies initially experienced high or low food after eclosion. We therefore conclude that the expression of life-history traits in adult life is affected not only by adult plasticity, but also by early adult life experiences. This is an important but often overlooked factor in studies of life-history evolution and may explain variation in life-history experiments.

Publication metadata

Author(s): van den Heuvel J, Zandveld J, Mulder M, Brakefield PM, Kirkwood TBL, Shanley DP, Zwaan BJ

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Evolutionary Biology

Year: 2014

Volume: 27

Issue: 11

Pages: 2322-2333

Print publication date: 24/11/2014

Online publication date: 24/11/2014

Acceptance date: 06/06/2014

Date deposited: 25/02/2015

ISSN (print): 1010-061X

ISSN (electronic): 1420-9101

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/jeb.12444


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Funder referenceFunder name
European Research Council
259679European Union
FP6/036894Network of Excellence LifeSpan