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Keywords:

  • accessory gland proteins;
  • ejaculate;
  • gene × environment interaction;
  • lifespan;
  • male–female coevolution;
  • sex peptide;
  • sexual conflict;
  • sexual selection

Abstract

Ejaculate chemicals transferred from males to females during mating cause significant changes in female behaviour and physiology, but the causes of phenotypic variation in these responses is little understood. We tested here the effect of adult female nutrition on the response of female Drosophila melanogaster to a specific ejaculate component, the sex peptide (SP), which is of interest because of its effects on female egg laying, sexual receptivity, feeding rate, immune responses and potential role in mediating sexual conflict. We exposed adult females to five different diets and kept them continuously with males that did or did not transfer SP. Diet altered the presence, magnitude and sign of the effects of SP on different phenotypic traits (egg laying, receptivity and lifespan) and different traits responded in different ways. This showed that the set of responses to mating can be uncoupled and can vary independently in different environments. Importantly, diet also significantly affected whether exposure to SP transferring males was beneficial or costly to females, with beneficial effects occurring more often than expected. Hence, the food environment can also shape significantly the strength and direction of selection on mating responses.