Based on ecological and metabolic arguments some authors predict that adaptation to novel, harsh environments should involve alleles showing negative (diminishing return) epistasis and/or that it should be mediated in part by evolution of maternal effects. While the first prediction has been supported in microbes, there has been little experimental support for either prediction in multicellular eukaryotes. Here we use a line-cross design to study the genetic architecture of adaptation to chronic larval malnutrition in a population of Drosophila melanogaster which evolved on an extremely nutrient-poor larval food for 84 generations. We assayed three fitness-related traits (developmental rate, adult female weight and egg-to-adult viability) under the malnutrition conditions in 14 crosses between this selected population and a non-adapted control population originally derived from the same base population. All traits showed a pattern of negative epistasis between alleles improving performance under malnutrition. Furthermore, evolutionary changes in maternal traits accounted for half of the 68 % increase in viability and for the whole of 8 % reduction in adult female body weight in the selected population (relative to unselected controls). These results thus support both of the above predictions and point to the importance of non-additive effects in adaptive microevolution
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