Male Harassment Holds Flies Back Evolutionarily

Female flies with good genes spent more time fending off males than laying eggs, hindering the overall adaptation to a new environment.

AsianScientist (Jul. 3, 2015) – Too much male sexual attention harms attractive females, according to a study published in Current Biology.

Associate Professor Steve Chenoweth from The University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences said the study showed that male harassment of females hampered the species’ ability to adapt to new environmental conditions.

“We found that sexually attractive females were overwhelmed by male suitors,” he said. “Female fruit flies with superior genes that allow them to lay more eggs were so attractive to male suitors they spent most of the time fending off male suitors rather than actually laying eggs.”

“The end result was that these supposedly ‘superior’ genes could not be passed on to the next generation.”

The researchers allowed different groups of flies to adapt to a new environment in the lab for 13 generations. They then manipulated the number of potential mates that males and females had in each group, thereby controlling the potential harassment rate.

At the end of the experiment, researchers sequenced the genomes of the flies and found a number of genes that became more common when harassment was not allowed, but these same genes became rare when male harassment was allowed to occur as usual.

As such, increased male attention held the population back and stopped the flies from adapting as well as they could.

“We have known for some time of these harmful interactions between males and females,” he said “However, we hadn’t realized there may be a large number of genes fueling the interactions, or that these types of genes hamper a species’ ability to adapt to new conditions.”

According to Chenoweth, future directions for the study include pinpointing the exact types of gene functions involved and to understanding the broader consequences of male-female interactions and their relevance to the evolutionary history of other species.

The article can be found at: Chenoweth et al. (2015) Genomic Evidence that Sexual Selection Impedes Adaptation to a Novel Environment.


Source: University of Queensland; Photo: Shutterstock.
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