Genomic responses to socio-sexual environment in male Drosophila melanogaster exposed to conspecific rivals

Irina Mohorianu, Amanda Bretman, Damian T. Smith, Emily K. Fowler, Tamas Dalmay, Tracey Chapman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
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Socio-sexual environments have profound effects on fitness. Local sex ratios can alter the threat of sexual competition, to which males respond via plasticity in reproductive behaviours and ejaculate composition. In Drosophila melanogaster, males detect the presence of conspecific, same-sex mating rivals prior to mating using multiple, redundant sensory cues. Males that respond to rivals gain significant fitness benefits by altering mating duration and ejaculate composition. Here we investigated the underlying genome-wide changes involved. We used RNA-seq to analyse male transcriptomic responses 2, 26 and 50h after exposure to rivals, a time period that was previously identified as encompassing the major facets of male responses to rivals. The results showed a strong early activation of multiple sensory genes in the head-thorax (HT), prior to the expression of any phenotypic differences. This gene expression response was reduced by 26h, at the time of maximum phenotypic change, and shut off by 50h. In the abdomen (A) fewer genes changed in expression and gene expression responses appeared to increase over time. The results also suggested that different sets of functionally equivalent genes might be activated in different replicates. This could represent a mechanism by which robustness is conferred upon highly plastic traits. Overall, our study reveals that mRNA-seq can identify subtle genomic signatures characteristic of flexible behavioural phenotypes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1048-1059
Number of pages12
Issue number23
Early online date20 Apr 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • sexual selection
  • sperm competition
  • RNA-seq
  • subsampling normalization

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