Many insects feed on only one or a few types of host. These host specialists often evolve a preference for chemical cues emanating from their host and develop mechanisms for circumventing their host's defenses. Adaptations like these are central to evolutionary biology, yet our understanding of their genetics remains incomplete. Drosophila sechellia, an emerging model for the genetics of host specialization, is an island endemic that has adapted to chemical toxins present in the fruit of its host plant, Morinda citrifolia. Its sibling species, D. simulans, and many other Drosophila species do not tolerate these toxins and avoid the fruit. Earlier work found a region with a strong effect on tolerance to the major toxin, octanoic acid, on chromosome arm 3R. Using a novel assay, we narrowed this region to a small span near the centromere containing 18 genes, including three odorant binding proteins. It has been hypothesized that the evolution of host specialization is facilitated by genetic linkage between alleles contributing to host preference and alleles contributing to host usage, such as tolerance to secondary compounds. We tested this hypothesis by measuring the effect of this tolerance locus on host preference behavior. Our data were inconsistent with the linkage hypothesis, as flies bearing this tolerance region showed no increase in preference for media containing M. citrifolia toxins, which D. sechellia prefers. Thus, in contrast to some models for host preference, preference and tolerance are not tightly linked at this locus nor is increased tolerance per se sufficient to change preference. Our data are consistent with the previously proposed model that the evolution of D. sechellia as a M. citrifolia specialist occurred through a stepwise loss of aversion and gain of tolerance to M. citrifolia's toxins.
A locus in Drosophila sechellia affecting tolerance of a host plant toxin