The mode of evolution of aggregation pheromones in Drosophila species


Matthew R. E. Symonds, School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
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Aggregation pheromones are used by fruit flies of the genus Drosophila to assemble on breeding substrates, where they feed, mate and oviposit communally. These pheromones consist of species-specific blends of chemicals. Here, using a phylogenetic framework, we examine how differences among species in these pheromone blends have evolved. Theoretical predictions, genetic evidence, and previous empirical analysis of bark beetle species, suggest that aggregation pheromones do not evolve gradually, but via major, saltational shifts in chemical composition. Using pheromone data for 28 species of Drosophila we show that, unlike with bark beetles, the distribution of chemical components among species is highly congruent with their phylogeny, with closely related species being more similar in their pheromone blends than are distantly related species. This pattern is also strong within the melanogaster species group, but less so within the virilis species group. Our analysis strongly suggests that the aggregation pheromones of Drosophila exhibit a gradual, not saltational, mode of evolution. We propose that these findings reflect the function of the pheromones in the ecology of Drosophila, which does not hinge on species specificity of aggregation pheromones as signals.