Wild African Drosophila melanogaster are seasonal specialists on marula fruits

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Although the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster is
arguably the most studied organism on the planet,
fundamental aspects of this species’ natural ecology
have remained enigmatic [1]. We have here investigated
a wild population of D. melanogaster from a
mopane forest in Zimbabwe. We find that these flies
are closely associated with marula fruit (Sclerocarya
) and propose that this seasonally abundant
and predominantly Southern African fruit is a key
ancestral host of D. melanogaster. Moreover, when
fruiting, marula is nearly exclusively used by
D. melanogaster, suggesting that these forest-dwelling
D. melanogaster are seasonal specialists, in a
similar manner to, e.g., Drosophila erecta on screw
pine cones [2]. We further demonstrate that the
main chemicals released by marula activate odorant
receptors that mediate species-specific host choice
(Or22a) [3, 4] and oviposition site selection (Or19a)
[5]. The Or22a-expressing neurons—ab3A—respond
strongly to the marula ester ethyl isovalerate, a volatile
rarely encountered in high amounts in other fruit.
We also show that Or22a differs among African populations
sampled from a wide range of habitats, in
line with a function associated with host fruit usage.
Flies from Southern Africa, most of which carry a
distinct allele at the Or22a/Or22b locus, have ab3A
neurons that are more sensitive to ethyl isovalerate
than, e.g., European flies. Finally, we discuss the
possibility that marula, which is also a culturally
and nutritionally important resource to humans,
may have helped the transition to commensalism in
D. melanogaster.


Enheter & grupper
Externa organisationer
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp

Ämnesklassifikation (UKÄ) – OBLIGATORISK

  • Etologi
  • Ekologi
  • Evolutionsbiologi
  • Genetik


Sidor (från-till)3960-3968.e3
Antal sidor21
TidskriftCurrent Biology
Utgåva nummer24
StatusPublished - 2018 dec 17
Peer review utfördJa


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Relaterad forskningsoutput

Quentin D Sprengelmeyer, Suzan Mansourian, Jermy D Lange, Daniel R Matute, Brandon S Cooper, Erling Jirle, Marcus Stensmyr & John E Pool, 2020 feb 25, I : Molecular biology and evolution. 37, 3, s. 627-638 13 s.

Forskningsoutput: TidskriftsbidragArtikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift

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