Contests for female attention turns males into better performers—in fruit flies

October 13, 2017, Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (FVB)
Violin fly. Credit: Patrick Debelle

Giving females an opportunity to choose the male they mate with leads to the evolution of better performing males, according to new research into the behaviour of fruit flies performed by University of Sheffield, University of St Andrews and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany.

In this study, Dr Allan Debelle from the University's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences recorded the of male from the species Drosophila pseudoobscura under different experimental conditions. In this species, court females with "love songs" by rapidly beating their wings, at a rate of around 6,000 beats per minute.

In order to test how female choice can affect the evolution of male characteristics, groups of flies were kept for 110 generations in either male-biased populations (where every female could choose among several males) or in populations where monogamy was enforced (where a female only had access to one male).

At the end of this – 8 years of mate choice experiments in captivity – the researchers found that males from the two types of populations differed in how fast they could beat their wings. In populations where females could choose their mate, males displayed more power and endurance when producing their love song than their counterparts that had evolved under enforced monogamy.

Dr Allan Debelle, who conducted the study as part of his PhD under the supervision of Dr Rhonda Snook at the University of Sheffield, said these results suggest that mate choice can be an important driver of the evolution of motor performance, "Our research shows that when, at each generation, females are given a choice among several mates performing energetically costly courtship, the motor performance of males in that can respond to this selection process and progressively improve." Because singing in fruit flies involves an important muscular effort, one possibility is that males under female selection did not solely evolve better singing skills but an overall better physical performance. Consistent with this, the researchers found that such males not only sing at higher tempo than the others, but they can also maintain a higher tempo for longer.

Dr Alexandre Courtiol, co-first author of this study, and a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, comments, "Our findings suggest that males evolve to divest from the construction of powerful bodies and the demonstration of spectacular feats when do not use these characteristics to discriminate (e.g. in our experiments, they were prevented to do so)."

Explore further: 'Super males' emerge from male-dominated populations, study finds

More information: Debelle A, Courtiol A, Ritchie MG, Snook RR (2017): Mate choice intensifies motor signaling in Drosophila. Animal Behaviour, doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.09.014

Related Stories

Birds choose mates with ornamental traits

September 4, 2017

A recurring theme in nature documentaries is that of choosy females selecting brightly colored males. A new study shows that, in monogamous mating systems, male birds may select their lifelong mates in much the same way.

Male choosiness emerges when females have multiple partners

April 4, 2017

Academy researchers Mikael Puurtinen and Lutz Fromhage at the Department of Biological and Environmental Science of the University of Jyväskylä and the Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions have found out that ...

Recommended for you

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

The friendly extortioner takes it all

February 15, 2019

Cooperating with other people makes many things easier. However, competition is also a characteristic aspect of our society. In their struggle for contracts and positions, people have to be more successful than their competitors ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.