Despite numerous examples of chemoreceptor gene family expansions and contractions, how these relate to modifications in the sensory neuron populations in which they are expressed remains unclear. Drosophila melanogaster's odorant receptor (Or) family is ideal for addressing this question because most Ors are expressed in distinct olfactory sensory neuron (OSN) types. Between-species changes in Or copy number may therefore indicate increases or reductions in the number of OSN populations. Here we investigated the Or67a subfamily, which exhibits copy number variation in D. melanogaster and its closest relatives: D. simulans, D. sechellia and D. mauritiana. These species' common ancestor had three Or67a paralogues that had already diverged adaptively. Following speciation, two Or67a paralogues were lost independently in D. melanogaster and D. sechellia, with ongoing positive selection shaping the intact genes. Unexpectedly, the functionally diverged Or67a paralogues in D. simulans are co-expressed in a single neuron population, which projects to a glomerulus homologous to that innervated by Or67a neurons in D. melanogaster. Thus, while sensory pathway neuroanatomy is conserved, independent selection on co-expressed receptors has contributed to species-specific peripheral coding. This work reveals a type of adaptive change largely overlooked for olfactory evolution, raising the possibility that similar processes influence other cases of insect Or co-expression.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.