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Integr Comp Biol. 2004 Dec;44(6):461-70. doi: 10.1093/icb/44.6.461.

Plastic and Genetic Variation in Wing Loading as a Function of Temperature Within and Among Parallel Clines in Drosophila subobscura.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Box 8795, College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia 23187-8795.


Drosophila subobscura is a European (EU) species that was introduced into South America (SA) approximately 25 years ago. Previous studies have found rapid clinal evolution in wing size and in chromosome inversion frequency in the SA colonists, and these clines parallel those found among the ancestral EU populations. Here we examine thermoplastic changes in wing length in flies reared at 15, 20, and 25°C from 10 populations on each continent. Wings are plastically largest in flies reared at 15°C (the coldest temperature) and genetically largest from populations that experience cooler temperatures on both continents. We hypothesize that flies living in cold temperatures benefit from reduced wing loading: ectotherms with cold muscles generate less power per wing beat, and hence larger wings and/or a smaller mass would facilitate fight. We develop a simple null model, based on isometric growth, to test our hypothesis. We find that both EU and SA flies exhibit adaptive plasticity in wing loading: flies reared at 15°C generally have lower wing loadings than do flies reared at 20°C or 25°C. Clinal patterns, however, are strikingly different. The ancestral EU populations show adaptive clinal variation at rearing a temperature of 15°C: flies from cool climates have lower wing loadings. In the colonizing populations from SA, however, we cannot reject the null model: wing loading increases with decreasing clinal temperatures. Our data suggest that selective factors other than flight have favored the rapid evolution of large overall size at low environmental temperatures. However, selection for increased flight ability in such environments may secondarily favor reduced body mass.

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