Density-dependent natural selection in Drosophila: Evolution of growth rate and body size

Mauro Santos, Daniel J. Borash, Amitabh Joshi, Nira Bounlutay, Laurence D. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Drosophila melanogaster populations subjected to extreme larval crowding (CU lines) in our laboratory have evolved higher larval feeding rates than their corresponding controls (UU lines). It has been suggested that this genetically based behavior may involve an energetic cost, which precludes natural selection in a density-regulated population to simultaneously maximize food acquisition and food conversion into biomass. If true, this stands against some basic predictions of the general theory of density dependent natural selection. Here we investigate the evolutionary consequences of density-dependent natural selection on growth rate and body size in D. melanogaster. The CU populations showed a higher growth rate during the posteritical period of larval life than UU populations, but the sustained differences in weight did not translate into the adult stage. The simplest explanation for these findings (that natural selection in a crowded larval environment favors a faster food acquisition for the individual to attain the same final body size in a shorter period of time) was tested and rejected by looking at the larva-to-adult development times. Larvae of CU populations starved for different periods of time develop into comparatively smaller adults, suggesting that food seeking behavior in a food depleted environment carries a higher cost to these larvae than to their UU counterparts. The results have important implications for understanding the evolution of body size in natural populations of Drosophila, and stand against some widespread beliefs that body size may represent a compromise between the conflicting effects of genetic variation in larval and adult performance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-432
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1997


  • Body size
  • critical size
  • density-dependent selection
  • development time
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • efficiency
  • feeding rate
  • growth rate
  • trade-offs


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