• Adaptation;
  • Drosophila subobscura;
  • evolutionary contingency;
  • founder effects;
  • genetic background;
  • life-history traits;
  • repeatability

The importance of contingency versus predictability in evolution has been a long-standing issue, particularly the interaction between genetic background, founder effects, and selection. Here we address experimentally the effects of genetic background and founder events on the repeatability of laboratory adaptation in Drosophila subobscura populations for several functional traits. We found disparate starting points for adaptation among laboratory populations derived from independently sampled wild populations for all traits. With respect to the subsequent evolutionary rate during laboratory adaptation, starvation resistance varied considerably among foundations such that the outcome of laboratory evolution is rather unpredictable for this particular trait, even in direction. In contrast, the laboratory evolution of traits closely related to fitness was less contingent on the circumstances of foundation. These findings suggest that the initial laboratory evolution of weakly selected characters may be unpredictable, even when the key adaptations under evolutionary domestication are predictable with respect to their trajectories.