Evolution of water conservation mechanisms in Drosophila

Allen G. Gibbs, Fernando Fukuzato, Luciano M. Matzkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

212 Scopus citations


Flies of the genus Drosophila inhabit a wide range of habitats, from the tropics to deserts to boreal forests. The primary physiological mechanism allowing Drosophila and other insects to survive in arid habitats is a reduction in rates of water loss. To understand mechanisms of water retention in greater detail, we investigated the three main routes by which Drosophila lose water: excretion, cuticular transpiration and respiratory loss through the spiracles. Excretory losses comprised <6% of total water flux and did not differ between xeric (cactophilic) and mesic species. No consistent relationship was observed between water-loss rates and the composition, physical properties or amounts of cuticular hydrocarbons, suggesting that cuticular transpiration did not differ among species from different habitats. Metabolic rates and water-loss rates were highly correlated. Cactophilic Drosophila were less active, and female cactophiles had lower metabolic rates than female mesic species of the same size. They were also more likely to exhibit a pattern of cyclic CO2 release that may help to conserve water. We conclude that lower overall rates of water loss are achieved primarily by reduction of respiratory losses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1183-1192
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Cuticular lipids
  • Discontinuous ventilation
  • Drosophila
  • Metabolic rate
  • Water loss

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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