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Keywords:

  • Acclimation;
  • cellular membranes;
  • developmental plasticity;
  • Drosophila melanogaster;
  • experimental evolution;
  • thermal adaptation

Theory predicts that developmental plasticity, the capacity to change phenotypic trajectory during development, should evolve when the environment varies sufficiently among generations, owing to temporal (e.g., seasonal) variation or to migration among environments. We characterized the levels of cellular plasticity during development in populations of Drosophila melanogaster experimentally evolved for over three years in either constant or temporally variable thermal environments. We used two measures of the lipid composition of cell membranes as indices of physiological plasticity (a.k.a. acclimation): (1) change in the ratio of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) to phosphatidylcholine (PC) and (2) change in lipid saturation (number of double bonds) in cool (16°C) relative to warm (25°C) developmental conditions. Flies evolved under variable environments had a greater capacity to acclimate the PE/PC ratio compared to flies evolved in constant environments, supporting the prediction that environments with high among-generation variance favor greater developmental plasticity. Our results are consistent with the selective advantage of a more environmentally sensitive allele that may have associated costs in constant environments.