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Social Cues of Future Sperm Competition Received during Development Affect Learning in Adult Male Fruit Flies, Drosophila melanogaster

Laurin S. McDowall, James Rouse, Steven M. Sait, Amanda Bretman
Journal of insect behavior 2019 v.32 no.1 pp. 47-58
Drosophila melanogaster, adults, cognition, fruit flies, gene expression, genes, insect behavior, larvae, males, mating competitiveness, memory, neurodevelopment, rearing, social environment, sperm competition
The social environment provides males with information about the likelihood of reproductive competition. However, social context can be highly variable, and males must track their environment in order to alter reproductive investment appropriately. In addition to using information gained as adults to adjust reproductive strategies, males can use cues in early life to anticipate future mating competition and alter development of reproductive tissue. As responding to variable levels of competition may be cognitively challenging, and early life environments could influence neural development, cues of future competition during development could influence adult cognitive capacity. Male Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies reared with cues of future reproductive competition, high larval density or in the presence of adult males, develop larger accessory glands. We examined whether these early life conditions affect adult male learning ability. We assessed the learning ability of adults reared under different larval social conditions in a non-sexual and sexual context. We also measured gene expression in learning, memory and synapse-related genes previously found to respond to the adult social environment. The presence of adult males during development had no effect. Males from low larval densities, however, had better learning ability in the sexual-context assay and showed relatively higher gene expression compared to flies from high larval densities. This could suggest a trade-off between reproductive investment into accessory gland growth or an increased investment into neural plasticity at low density.