Fly Songs and Evolution

Publication Date

Songs don’t usually cause break-ups. Even so, they seem to be part of the reason a miniscule fruit fly has undergone speciation—diverging from one distinct species into three.

Roman Yukilevich recently discovered that the males of these three races of Drosophila athabasca sing songs to attract mates, and the songs are race-specific. It seems that guys have to hum the right tune—by vibrating a wing at high frequency – to get the girls.

“We found that a female will only mate with a male from another race if the male is mute and the female’s own race song is being played for them in the lab,” Yukilevich said. This means that each race is reproductively isolated; they won’t mate with flies singing another race’s song.

And it’s this isolation that has contributed to the evolution of three separate species—a species, by definition, is a group of similar organisms capable of exchanging genes and breeding. And only flies singing the proper song, in this case, can reproduce in the wild.

Why’s this important?

“If we want to understand how and why evolution generates the tremendous biodiversity we have on Earth, we have to understand the mechanisms by which a single species splits into multiple species,” Yukilevich said. “Studying animals that have undergone speciation in the recent past provides an amazing opportunity to understand the processes by which biodiversity is generated.”

Drosophila athabasca speciated during the last 20,000 to 5,000 years. That’s very recently, biologically speaking, since most scientists study speciation that occurred millions of years ago.