Temporal variation favors the evolution of generalists in experimental populations of Drosophila melanogaster

Catriona Condon, Brandon S. Cooper, Sam Yeaman, Michael J. Angilletta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


In variable environments, selection should favor generalists that maintain fitness across a range of conditions. However, costs of adaptation may generate fitness trade-offs and lead to some compromise between specialization and generalization that maximizes fitness. Here, we evaluate the evolution of specialization and generalization in 20 populations of Drosophila melanogaster experimentally evolved in constant and variable thermal environments for 3 years. We developed genotypes from each population at two temperatures after which we measured fecundity across eight temperatures. We predicted that constant environments would select for thermal specialists and that variable environments would select for thermal generalists. Contrary to our predictions, specialists and generalists did not evolve in constant and spatially variable environments, respectively. However, temporal variation produced a type of generalist that has rarely been considered by theoretical models of developmental plasticity. Specifically, genotypes from the temporally variable selective environment were more fecund across all temperatures than were genotypes from other environments. These patterns suggest certain allelic effects and should inspire new directions for modeling adaptation to fluctuating environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)720-728
Number of pages9
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Acclimation
  • Experimental evolution
  • Phenotypic plasticity
  • Specialist-generalist trade-offs
  • Thermal adaptation


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