Evolution of water balance in the genus Drosophila

Allen G. Gibbs, Luciano M. Matzkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

167 Scopus citations


Fruit flies of the genus Drosophila have independently invaded deserts around the world on numerous occasions. To understand the physiological mechanisms allowing these small organisms to survive and thrive in arid environments, we performed a phylogenetic analysis of water balance in Drosophila species from different habitats. Desert (cactophilic) species were more resistant to desiccation than mesic ones. This resistance could be accomplished in three ways: by increasing the amount of water in the body, by reducing rates of water loss or by tolerating the loss of a greater percentage of body water (dehydration tolerance). Cactophilic Drosophila lost water less rapidly and appeared to be more tolerant of low water content, although males actually contained less water than their mesic congeners. However, when the phylogenetic relationships between the species were taken into account, greater dehydration tolerance was not correlated with increased desiccation resistance. Therefore, only one of the three expected adaptive mechanisms, lower rates of water loss, has actually evolved in desert Drosophila, and the other apparently adaptive difference between arid and mesic species (increased dehydration tolerance) instead reflects phylogenetic history.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2331-2338
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2001


  • Desert
  • Desiccation
  • Drosophila spp.
  • Evolution
  • Phylogeny
  • Water loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Physiology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Insect Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Evolution of water balance in the genus Drosophila'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this