Similarities and differences in altitudinal versus latitudinal variation for morphological traits in Drosophila melanogaster

Evolution. 2014 May;68(5):1385-98. doi: 10.1111/evo.12351. Epub 2014 Mar 4.


Understanding how natural environments shape phenotypic variation is a major aim in evolutionary biology. Here, we have examined clinal, likely genetically based variation in morphology among 19 populations of the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) from Africa and Europe, spanning a range from sea level to 3000 m altitude and including locations approximating the southern and northern range limit. We were interested in testing whether latitude and altitude have similar phenotypic effects, as has often been postulated. Both latitude and altitude were positively correlated with wing area, ovariole number, and cell number. In contrast, latitude and altitude had opposite effects on the ratio between ovariole number and body size, which was negatively correlated with egg production rate per ovariole. We also used transgenic manipulation to examine how increased cell number affects morphology and found that larger transgenic flies, due to a higher number of cells, had more ovarioles, larger wings, and, unlike flies from natural populations, increased wing loading. Clinal patterns in morphology are thus not a simple function of changes in body size; instead, each trait might be subject to different selection pressures. Together, our results provide compelling evidence for profound similarities as well as differences between phenotypic effects of latitude and altitude.

Keywords: Altitude; body size; cell number; clines; latitude; ovariole number; wing loading.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Altitude*
  • Animals
  • Body Size
  • Climate
  • Drosophila melanogaster / anatomy & histology
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics*
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Gene-Environment Interaction*
  • Genetic Variation*
  • Genitalia, Female / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology