Many animal species face periods of chronic nutritional stress during which the individuals must continue to develop, grow, and/or reproduce despite low quantity or quality of food. Here, we use experimental evolution to study adaptation to such chronic nutritional stress in six replicate Drosophila melanogaster populations selected for the ability to survive and develop within a limited time on a very poor larval food. In unselected control populations, this poor food resulted in 20% lower egg-to-adult viability, 70% longer egg-to-adult development, and 50% lower adult body weight (compared to the standard food on which the flies were normally maintained). The evolutionary changes associated with adaptation to the poor food were assayed by comparing the selected and control lines in a common environment for different traits after 29–64 generations of selection. The selected populations evolved improved egg-to-adult viability and faster development on poor food. Even though the adult dry weight of selected flies when raised on the poor food was lower than that of controls, their average larval growth rate was higher. No differences in proportional pupal lipid content were observed. When raised on the standard food, the selected flies showed the same egg-to-adult viability and the same resistance to larval heat and cold shock as the controls and a slightly shorter developmental time. However, despite only 4% shorter development time, the adults of selected populations raised on the standard food were 13% smaller and showed 20% lower early-life fecundity than the controls, with no differences in life span. The selected flies also turned out less tolerant to adult malnutrition. Thus, fruit flies have the genetic potential to adapt to poor larval food, with no detectable loss of larval performance on the standard food. However, adaptation to larval nutritional stress is associated with trade-offs with adult fitness components, including adult tolerance to nutritional stress.
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Vol. 63 • No. 9