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Evolution of behavior by density-dependent natural selection.


Theories of density-dependent natural selection predict that evolution should favor those genotypes with the highest per capita rates of population growth under the current density conditions. These theories are silent about the mechanisms that may give rise to these increases in density-dependent growth rates. We have observed the evolution of six populations of Drosophila melanogaster recently placed in crowded environments after nearly 200 generations at low-population density in the laboratory. After 25 generations in these crowded cultures all six populations showed the predicted increase in population growth rates at high-population density with the concomitant decrease in their growth rates at low densities. These changes in rates of population growth are accompanied by changes in the feeding and pupation behavior of the larvae: those populations that have evolved at high-population densities have higher feeding rates and are less likely to pupate on or near the food surface than populations maintained at low densities. These changes in behavior serve to increase the competitive ability of larvae for limited food and reduce mortality under crowded conditions during the pupal stage of development. A detailed understanding of the mechanisms by which populations evolve under density-dependent natural selection will provide a framework for understanding the nature of trade-offs in life history evolution.

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