Many ways to make darker flies: Intra- and interspecific variation in Drosophila body pigmentation components

Elvira Lafuente*, Filipa Alves, Jessica G. King, Carolina M. Peralta, Patrícia Beldade

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Body pigmentation is an evolutionarily diversified and ecologically relevant trait with substantial variation within and between species, and important roles in animal survival and reproduction. Insect pigmentation, in particular, provides some of the most compelling examples of adaptive evolution, including its ecological significance and genetic bases. Pigmentation includes multiple aspects of color and color pattern that may vary more or less independently, and can be under different selective pressures. We decompose Drosophila thorax and abdominal pigmentation, a valuable eco-evo-devo model, into distinct measurable traits related to color and color pattern. We investigate intra- and interspecific variation for those traits and assess its different sources. For each body part, we measured overall darkness, as well as four other pigmentation properties distinguishing between background color and color of the darker pattern elements that decorate each body part. By focusing on two standard D. melanogaster laboratory populations, we show that pigmentation components vary and covary in distinct manners depending on sex, genetic background, and temperature during development. Studying three natural populations of D. melanogaster along a latitudinal cline and five other Drosophila species, we then show that evolution of lighter or darker bodies can be achieved by changing distinct component traits. Our results paint a much more complex picture of body pigmentation variation than previous studies could uncover, including patterns of sexual dimorphism, thermal plasticity, and interspecific diversity. These findings underscore the value of detailed quantitative phenotyping and analysis of different sources of variation for a better understanding of phenotypic variation and diversification, and the ecological pressures and genetic mechanisms underlying them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8136-8155
Number of pages20
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number12
Early online date25 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2021


  • decomposing phenotypes
  • developmental plasticity
  • genetic and environmental variance
  • quantitative phenotyping
  • thermal plasticity


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