Food selection in larval fruit flies: dynamics and effects on larval development
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Selecting food items and attaining a nutritionally balanced diet is an important challenge for all animals including humans. We aimed to establish fruit fly larvae (Drosophila melanogaster) as a simple yet powerful model system for examining the mechanisms of specific hunger and diet selection. In two lab experiments with artificial diets, we found that larvae deprived of either sucrose or protein later selectively fed on a diet providing the missing nutrient. When allowed to freely move between two adjacent food patches, larvae surprisingly preferred to settle on one patch containing yeast and ignored the patch providing sucrose. Moreover, when allowed to move freely between three patches, which provided either yeast only, sucrose only or a balanced mixture of yeast and sucrose, the majority of larvae settled on the yeast-plus-sucrose patch and about one third chose to feed on the yeast only food. While protein (yeast) is essential for development, we also quantified larval success on diets with or without sucrose and show that larvae develop faster on diets containing sucrose. Our data suggest that fruit fly larvae can quickly assess major nutrients in food and seek a diet providing a missing nutrient. The larvae, however, probably prefer to quickly dig into a single food substrate for enhanced protection over achieving an optimal diet.
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