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J Evol Biol. 2003 Nov;16(6):1159-67.

Temperature dependent larval resource allocation shaping adult body size in Drosophila melanogaster.

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Evolutionary Population Biology, Utrecht University, Padualaan, Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Geographical variation in Drosophila melanogaster body size is a long-standing problem of life-history evolution. Adaptation to a cold climate invariably produces large individuals, whereas evolution in tropical regions result in small individuals. The proximate mechanism was suggested to involve thermal evolution of resource processing by the developing larvae. In this study an attempt is made to merge proximate explanations, featuring temperature sensitivity of larval resource processing, and ultimate approaches focusing on adult and pre-adult life-history traits. To address the issue of temperature dependent resource allocation to adult size vs. larval survival, feeding was stopped at several stages during the larval development. Under these conditions of food deprivation, two temperate and two tropical populations reared at high and low temperatures produced different adult body sizes coinciding with different probabilities to reach the adult stage. In all cases a phenotypic trade-off between larval survival and adult size was observed. However, the underlying pattern of larval resource allocation differed between the geographical populations. In the temperate populations larval age but not weight predicted survival. Temperate larvae did not invest accumulated resources in survival, instead they preserved larval biomass to benefit adult weight. In other words, larvae from temperate populations failed to re-allocate accumulated resources to facilitate their survival. A low percentage of the larvae survived to adulthood but produced relatively large flies. Conversely, in tropical populations larval weight but not age determined the probability to reach adulthood. Tropical larvae did not invest in adult size, but facilitated their own survival. Most larvae succeeded in pupating but then produced small adults. The underlying physiological mechanism seemed to be an evolved difference in the accessibility of glycogen reserves as a result of thermal adaptation. At low rearing temperatures and in the temperate populations, glycogen levels tended to correlate positively with adult size but negatively with pupation probability. The data presented here offer an explanation of geographical variation in body size by showing that thermal evolution of resource allocation, specifically the ability to access glycogen storage, is the proximate mechanism responsible for the life-history trade-off between larval survival and adult size.

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