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Sperm and sex peptide stimulate aggression in female Drosophila

Nature Ecology & Evolution volume 1, Article number: 0154 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Female aggression towards other females is associated with reproduction in many taxa, and traditionally thought to be related to the protection or provisioning of offspring, such as through increased resource acquisition. However, the underlying reproductive factors causing aggressive behaviour in females remain unknown. Here we show that female aggression in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is strongly stimulated by the receipt of sperm at mating, and in part by an associated seminal fluid protein, the sex peptide. We further show that the post-mating increase in female aggression is decoupled from the costs of egg production and from post-mating decreases in sexual receptivity. Our results indicate that male ejaculates can have a surprisingly direct influence on aggression in recipient females. Male ejaculate traits thus influence the female social competitive environment, with potentially far-reaching ecological and evolutionary consequences.

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded by NERC (NE/J018937/1) and BBSRC (BB/K014544/1) fellowships to S.W. and scholarships from the Rhodes Trust and St John’s College, Oxford to E.B.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Edward Grey Institute, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK.

    • Eleanor Bath
    • , Samuel Bowden
    • , Carla Peters
    • , Anjali Reddy
    • , Joseph A. Tobias
    • , Nathalie Seddon
    •  & Stuart Wigby
  2. Faculty of Natural Sciences, Department of Life Sciences, Imperial College, London SW7 2AZ, UK.

    • Joseph A. Tobias
  3. Department of International Development, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3TB, UK.

    • Evan Easton-Calabria
  4. Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3SR, UK.

    • Stephen F. Goodwin

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Contributions

E.B., S.W. and N.S conceived the project. E.B. and S.W. designed the experiments, with S.F.G. providing additional advice on experimental design for later experiments. E.B., S.B., C.P. and A.R. performed the behavioural experiments and scored the behavioural data. E.B. analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. S.W., S.F.G., N.S., E.E.-C. and J.A.T. discussed the results and contributed to the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Eleanor Bath.

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    Supplementary Video 1

    Annotated examples of female aggressive behaviour as observed and scored in this study.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-017-0154