Mate discrimination among subspecies through a conserved olfactory pathway

Mohammed A. Khallaf, Thomas O. Auer, Veit Grabe, Ana Depetris-Chauvin, Byrappa Ammagarahalli, Dan Dan Zhang, Sofía Lavista-Llanos, Filip Kaftan, Jerrit Weißflog, Luciano M. Matzkin, Stephanie M. Rollmann, Christer Löfstedt, Aleš Svatoš, Hany K.M. Dweck, Silke Sachse, Richard Benton, Bill S. Hansson, Markus Knaden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Communication mechanisms underlying the sexual isolation of species are poorly understood. Using four subspecies of Drosophila mojavensis as a model, we identify two behaviorally active, male-specific pheromones. One functions as a conserved male antiaphrodisiac in all subspecies and acts via gustation. The second induces female receptivity via olfaction exclusively in the two subspecies that produce it. Genetic analysis of the cognate receptor for the olfactory pheromone indicates an important role for this sensory pathway in promoting sexual isolation of subspecies, in combination with auditory signals. Unexpectedly, the peripheral sensory pathway detecting this pheromone is conserved molecularly, physiologically, and anatomically across subspecies. These observations imply that subspecies-specific behaviors arise from differential interpretation of the same peripheral cue, reminiscent of sexually conserved detection but dimorphic interpretation of male pheromones in Drosophila melanogaster. Our results reveal that, during incipient speciation, pheromone production, detection, and interpretation do not necessarily evolve in a coordinated manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberaba5279
JournalScience Advances
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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