• accelerated development;
  • ammonia;
  • density-dependent natural selection;
  • nitrogenous waste;
  • trade-off;
  • urea

We have previously hypothesized that density-dependent natural selection is responsible for a genetic polymorphism in crowded cultures of Drosophila. This genetic polymorphism entails two alternative phenotypes for dealing with crowded Drosophila larval cultures. The first phenotype is associated with rapid development, fast larval feeding rates but reduced absolute viability, especially in the presence of nitrogenous wastes like ammonia. The second phenotype has associated with it the opposite set of traits, slow development, slow feeding rates and higher viability. We suggested that these traits are associated due to genetic correlations and that an important selective agent in crowded larval cultures was high levels of ammonia. To test this hypothesis we have examined viability and larval feeding rates in populations kept at low larval densities but selected directly for (i) rapid egg-to-adult development, (ii) tolerance of ammonia in the larval environment and (iii) tolerance of urea in the larval environment. Consistent with our hypothesis we found that (i) larvae selected for rapid development exhibited increased feeding rates, and decreased viability in food laced with ammonia or urea relative to controls, and (ii) larvae selected to tolerate either ammonia or urea in their larval environment show reduced feeding rates but elevated survival in toxin-laced food relative to controls. It would appear that development time and larval feeding rate are important characters for larvae adapting to crowded cultures. The correlated fitness effects of these characters provide important insights into the nature of density-dependent natural selection.