A new study reveals how a fruit fly's genes can influence the company it keeps. Using male flies that had been bred for varying levels of aggressiveness, researchers Julia Saltz and Brad Foley observed how the males formed groups when placed into an enclosure with females.
The research showed that the non-aggressive flies clumped together, forming a few large groups. The aggressive flies, meanwhile, spread out into smaller groups. This sorting according to behavioral preference is known as social niche construction (SNC), and Saltz says this is the first time it has been demonstrated to have a genetic basis. In sorting themselves this way, both aggressive and non-aggressive flies were able to find mating success.
Some flies were more likely to mate after winning an aggressive conflict. Those flies benefitted from being aggressive. Other flies however were more likely to mate after losing a squabble. Those flies benefitted from forgoing aggression. "Thus, successful males were those who 'used' SNC to generate the social environment in which they are most adept at mating," explains Saltz, a Ph.D. student and lead author on the paper. "Non-aggressive genotypes aren't just 'broken' males. They're pursuing an alternate social strategy."
- Julia B. Saltz, Brad R. Foley. Natural Genetic Variation in Social Niche Construction: Social Effects of Aggression Drive Disruptive Sexual Selection inDrosophila melanogaster. The American Naturalist, 2011; 177 (5): 645 DOI: 10.1086/659631
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