Sex ratio and the evolution of aggression in fruit flies

Eleanor Bath, Danielle Edmunds, Jessica Norman, Charlotte Atkins, Lucy Harper, Wayne G. Rostant, Tracey Chapman, Stuart Wigby, Jennifer C. Perry

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Aggressive behaviours are among the most striking displayed by animals, and aggression strongly impacts fitness in many species. Aggression varies plastically in response to the social environment, but we lack direct tests of how aggression evolves in response to intra-sexual competition. We investigated how aggression in both sexes evolves in response to the competitive environment, using populations of Drosophila melanogaster that we experimentally evolved under female-biased, equal, and male-biased sex ratios. We found that after evolution in a female-biased environment—with less male competition for mates—males fought less often on food patches, although the total frequency and duration of aggressive behaviour did not change. In females, evolution in a female-biased environment—where female competition for resources is higher—resulted in more frequent aggressive interactions among mated females, along with a greater increase in post-mating aggression. These changes in female aggression could not be attributed solely to evolution either in females or in male stimulation of female aggression, suggesting that coevolved interactions between the sexes determine female post-mating aggression. We found evidence consistent with a positive genetic correlation for aggression between males and females, suggesting a shared genetic basis. This study demonstrates the experimental evolution of a behaviour strongly linked to fitness, and the potential for the social environment to shape the evolution of contest behaviours.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20203053
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1947
Early online date17 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2021


  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • aggression
  • experimental evolution
  • sex ratio
  • sexual conflict
  • sexual selection

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