Influence of antibiotic treatment and Wolbachia curing on sexual isolation among Drosophila melanogaster cage populations

Evolution. 2006 Jan;60(1):87-96.


Speciation depends on the establishment of reproductive isolation between populations of the same species. Whether assortative mating evolves as a by-product of adaptation is a major question relevant to the origin of species by reproductive isolation. The long-term selection populations used here were originally established 30 years ago from a single cage population (originating from a maternal one) and subsequently subjected to divergent selection for tolerance of toxins in food (heavy metals versus ethanol) to investigate this question. Those populations now differ in sexual isolation and Wolbachia infection status. Wolbachia are common and widespread bacteria infecting arthropods and nematodes. Attention has recently focused on their potential role in insect speciation, due to post-mating sperm-egg incompatibilities induced by the bacteria. In this paper we examine the potential effect of Wolbachia on the level of sexual isolation. By antibiotic curing, we show that removal of Wolbachia decreases levels of mate discrimination (sexual isolation index) between populations by about 50%. Backcrossing experiments confirm that this effect is due to infection status rather than to genetic changes in the populations resulting from antibiotic treatment. Antibiotic treatment has no effect on mate discrimination level between uninfected populations. Our findings suggest that the presence of Wolbachia (or another undetected bacterial associate) act as an additive factor contributing to the level of pre-mating isolation between these Drosophila melanogaster populations. Given the ubiquity of bacterial associates of insects, such effects could be relevant to some speciation events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology*
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • Drosophila melanogaster / drug effects
  • Drosophila melanogaster / microbiology*
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Female
  • Genetic Speciation
  • Male
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual Behavior, Animal
  • Tetracycline / pharmacology*
  • Wolbachia / drug effects*
  • Wolbachia / physiology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Tetracycline