Natural history of social and sexual behavior in fruit flies Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • AbstractThe past 2 decades have seen fruit flies being widely adopted for research on social behavior and aggression. This fruitful research, however, has not been well tied to fruit flies’ natural history. To address this knowledge gap, I conducted a field study. My goal was to inform future research conducted in artificial surroundings, and to inspire new investigations that can rely more heavily on fruit flies’ actual natural behavior. My two main novel findings were first, that flies in the field showed significant sociability, as they formed social groups rather than dispersed randomly among fruits of similar quality. Second, males showed fair levels of aggression towards each other as indicated by a lunging rate of 17 per hour, and lower rates of wing threat and boxing. Courtship was the most prominent activity on fruits, with females rejecting almost all males’ advances. This resulted in an estimated mating rate of 0.6 per female per day. Flies showed a striking peak of activity early in the mornings, even at cold temperatures, followed by inactivity for much of the day and night. Flies, however, handled well high temperatures approaching 40 °C by hiding away from fruit and concentrating activity in the cooler, early mornings. My field work highlights a few promising lines of future research informed by fruit flies’ natural history. Most importantly, we do not understand the intriguing dynamics that generate significant sociability despite frequent aggressive interactions on fruits. Males’ responses to female rejection signals varied widely, perhaps because the signals differed in information content perceived by flies but not humans. Finally, flies tolerated cold early mornings perhaps owing to fitness benefits associated with increased mating and feeding opportunities at this time. Flies were adept at handling very high temperatures under the natural daily temperature fluctuations and availability of shelters, and this can inform more realistic research on the effects of global warming on animals in their natural settings.

publication date

  • December 2020