Thermal plasticity in Drosophila melanogaster populations from eastern Australia: quantitative traits to transcripts

Authors: Allannah S Clemson, Carla M Sgrò, and Marina Telonis-Scott

Published in: Journal of Evolutionary Biology, volume 29, issue 12 (December 2016)


The flexibility afforded to genotypes in different environments by phenotypic plasticity is of interest to biologists studying thermal adaptation because of the thermal lability of many traits. Differences in thermal performance and reaction norms can provide insight into the evolution of thermal adaptation to explore broader questions such as species distributions and persistence under climate change.

One approach is to study the effects of temperature on fitness, morphological and more recently gene expression traits in populations from different climatic origins. The diverse climatic conditions experienced by Drosophila melanogaster along the eastern Australian temperate-tropical gradient are ideal given the high degree of continuous trait differentiation, but reaction norm variation has not been well studied in this system.

Here, we reared a tropical and temperate population from the ends of the gradient over six developmental temperatures and examined reaction norm variation for five quantitative traits including thermal performance for fecundity, and reaction norms for thermotolerance, body size, viability and 23 transcript-level traits.

Despite genetic variation for some quantitative traits, we found no differentiation between the populations for fecundity thermal optima and breadth, and the reaction norms for the other traits were largely parallel, supporting previous work suggesting that thermal evolution occurs by changes in trait means rather than by reaction norm shifts.

We examined reaction norm variation in our expanded thermal regime for a gene set shown to previously exhibit G×E for expression plasticity in east Australian flies, as well as key heat-shock genes.

Although there were differences in curvature between the populations suggesting a higher degree of thermal plasticity in expression patterns than for the quantitative traits, we found little evidence to support a role for genetic variation in maintaining expression plasticity.


Clemson AS, Sgrò CM, Telonis-Scott M (2016) Thermal plasticity in Drosophila melanogaster populations from eastern Australia: quantitative traits to transcripts. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, PDF DOI