Maintaining a behaviour polymorphism by frequency-dependent selection on a single gene

Fitzpatrick MJ, Feder E, Rowe L, Sokolowski MB

Nature 2007 May;447(7141):210-2

PMID: 17495926


Accounting for the abundance of genetic variation in the face of natural selection remains a central problem of evolutionary biology. Genetic polymorphisms are constantly arising through mutation, and although most are promptly eliminated, polymorphisms in functionally important traits are common. One mechanism that can maintain polymorphisms is negative frequency-dependent selection on alternative alleles, whereby the fitness of each decreases as its frequency increases. Examples of frequency-dependent selection are rare, especially when attempting to describe the genetic basis of the phenotype under selection. Here we show frequency-dependent selection in a well-known natural genetic polymorphism affecting fruitfly foraging behaviour. When raised in low nutrient conditions, both of the naturally occurring alleles of the foraging gene (for(s) and for(R)) have their highest fitness when rare-the hallmark of negative frequency-dependent selection. This effect disappears at higher resources levels, demonstrating the role of larval competition. We are able to confirm the involvement of the foraging gene by showing that a sitter-like mutant allele on a rover background has similar frequency-dependent fitness as the natural sitter allele. Our study represents a clear demonstration of frequency-dependent selection, and we are able to attribute this effect to a single, naturally polymorphic gene known to affect behaviour.