Desiccation and starvation resistance in Drosophila: patterns of variation at the species, population and intrapopulation levels


Ary A. Hoffmann E-mail:


A substantial number of Drosophila studies have investigated variation in desiccation and starvation resistance, providing an opportunity to test for consistent patterns of direct and correlated responses across studies and across the species and population levels. In general, responses to laboratory selection for these traits in D.melanogaster are rapid and indicate abundant genetic variation in populations. However, slower responses to selection for desiccation resistance occur in other species including D. simulans. Clines suggest adaptive divergence although specific selection pressures have not been documented empirically. Drosophila species differ markedly in desiccation and starvation resistance and there is also marked variation within species for desiccation resistance that may be linked to local climatic conditions. Laboratory selection experiments on starvation resistance in D. melanogaster suggest that changes in lipid content are largely responsible for resistance variation but this factor may be less important in explaining variation among species. For desiccation, lines with increased resistance show reduced rates of water loss but no changes in the minimum water content that flies can tolerate. Changes in life history traits are sometimes associated with altered levels of stress resistance. Increased starvation resistance is associated with longer development time and reduced early age reproduction in different studies. However, other associations are inconsistent between studies as in the case of stress resistance changing following selection for longevity. Multiple mechanisms may underlie genetic variation in stress resistance and future studies should address the evolutionary importance of the different mechanisms at the population and species levels.