Love Thy Neighbour? Social and Sexual Accommodation in Fruitfies

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Biological Sciences


Individuals of many species adjust to their environment to increase their potential competitiveness. A familiar example is 'speech accommodation', where individuals, often unintentionally, adopt the accent or speech patterns of those around them. In fruitflies, males show precise responses to their social and sexual environment. Following detection of conspecific rivals, males transfer more ejaculate proteins to females and sire more offspring. Males detect rivals using multiple, redundant sensory inputs. The first aim is to test the idea that this system is robust, immune to mis-firing and confers significant benefits.

Our recent analysis of gene expression in males exposed to rivals reveals a signature of redundancy, with similar sensory inputs following different pathways to result in the same output. The second aim is to test directly for such genomic redundancy, by analyzing the gene expression patterns of responding males that lack sensory inputs.

The final aim is to test whether the same rules apply to detection in interactions involving males of closely related species. 'Mistakes' in identification are apparently not related to relatedness or the potential to hybridise.

The proposed project is at the forefront of identifying recognition mechanisms and is relevant to insect control, by using our knowledge to manipulate reproductive biology via gene silencing.


10 25 50
publication icon
Dore AA (2018) The role of complex cues in social and reproductive plasticity. in Behavioral ecology and sociobiology

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M011216/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1772360 Studentship BB/M011216/1 01/10/2016 30/09/2020 Alice Dore
Description Male fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) who have been experimentally evolved under a fixed, male-biased sex ratio (70 males to every 30 females) evolve new flexibility in their reproductive behaviour in response to male rivals. Males from male-biased lines who have been exposed to conspecific male rivals immediately prior to meeting a female are slower to begin mating than when they have not encountered a rival. This effect is not observed in wildtype males, or males from female-biased or equal-sex lines. The longer latency to mate is associated with a decrease in courtship intensity, consistent across a number of distinct courtship behaviours. There is also preliminary evidence to suggest that the mating behaviour of these males may be influenced by the evolutionary background of the rivals they encounter prior to mating, and is flexible depending on whether the rival males are wildtype or come from within the same male-biased lines as the focal male.

There is a suggestion that male responses to rivals, specifically the extension of mating duration following exposure to rivals, can be elicited by alternative transcriptomic pathways. Extended mating results from focal males encountering any 2 of 3 key sensory cues of rival presence (smell, touch and song), suggesting redundancy in the system by which males perceive rivals. This redundancy may be underpinned by the ability of males to produce equivalent behavioural responses by expressing different, functionally equivalent sets of genes.
Exploitation Route To gain a fuller understanding of how flexible reproductive behaviours evolve in the experimental sex ratio lines, further research on the reproductive investment of these males in terms of seminal fluid protein transfer will take place as part of the collaboration with Stuart Wigby et al. at Oxford. The findings on mating latency and courtship are open to further research on how males respond to females of different evolutionary backgrounds, and whether the behaviour and reproductive success of males from male-biased lines is influenced by the presence of rival males in the mating arena.

The preliminary findings on the possible alternative transcriptomic pathways to equivalent behavioural responses demonstrate the value of conducting further research to produce a more comprehensive and fully controlled study on this topic.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment