The life history of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) is well understood, but fitness components are rarely measured by following single individuals over their lifetime, thereby limiting insights into lifetime reproductive success, reproductive senescence and post-reproductive lifespan. Moreover, most studies have examined long-established laboratory strains rather than freshly caught individuals and may thus be confounded by adaptation to laboratory culture, inbreeding or mutation accumulation. Here, we have followed the life histories of individual females from three recently caught, non-laboratory-adapted wild populations of D. melanogaster. Populations varied in a number of life-history traits, including ovariole number, fecundity, hatchability and lifespan. To describe individual patterns of age-specific fecundity, we developed a new model that allowed us to distinguish four phases during a female's life: a phase of reproductive maturation, followed by a period of linear and then exponential decline in fecundity and, finally, a post-ovipository period. Individual females exhibited clear-cut fecundity peaks, which contrasts with previous analyses, and post-peak levels of fecundity declined independently of how long females lived. Notably, females had a pronounced post-reproductive lifespan, which on average made up 40% of total lifespan. Post-reproductive lifespan did not differ among populations and was not correlated with reproductive fitness components, supporting the hypothesis that this period is a highly variable, random 'add-on' at the end of reproductive life rather than a correlate of selection on reproductive fitness. Most life-history traits were positively correlated, a pattern that might be due to genotype by environment interactions when wild flies are brought into a novel laboratory environment but that is unlikely explained by inbreeding or positive mutational covariance caused by mutation accumulation.
Keywords: Drosophila melanogaster; individual fecundity; laboratory conditions; life history; post-reproductive lifespan; reproductive senescence; reproductive success; wild-caught populations.
© 2013 The Authors. Journal of Evolutionary Biology © 2013 European Society For Evolutionary Biology.