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Kawecki Group- Experimental evolutionary biology.

Our research focuses on understanding behavioral, life history, physiological and genetic bases of adaptive evolution. Much of it involves experimental evolution, i.e, studying in real time the evolutionary responses of replicated populations to controlled selection regimes, using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as the study system. This approach allows for direct testing of evolutionary hypotheses. We currently focus on cognitive traits, such as learning ability, including in a sexual context, and on tolerance to chronic malnutrition. However, we have also recently followed up on our discovery of cannibalism in Drosophila larvae with experiments aiming to understand its adaptive significance.

Evolutionary biology of learning

One set of projects aims to understand learning ability and memory as products of biological evolution. It is usually assumed that learning is beneficial in terms of survival and reproduction, and concrete benefits of learning have been demonstrated under natural settings e.g. in birds or bees. However, if learning is beneficial, why do most animals show rather limited learning and memory? One possibility is that evolution of improved learning ability is limited by lack of genetic variation. We have demonstrated that this is not that case for Drosophila by breeding within several dozen generations flies with substantially improved associative learning ability. Rather, learning is a costly adaptation, as we have demonstrated in several experiments, and these costs rather than genetic variation may limit the evolution of better learning. See this New York Times article on our research on this subject.

Almost all research on learning in fruit flies, including our own, has been done in the laboratory. We are currently also exploring flies' ability to learn in semi-natural settings, with the ultimate goal of understanding the ecological significance of learning in non-social insects in nature. We are also carrying out an evolutionary experiment to address the relationship between cognitive and demographic aspects of aging.

Role of sexual selection in the evolution of cognitive abilities

While some specialized forms of learning (e.g., song learning in birds) are clearly important in acquiring mates, sexual selection is not usually considered a major force driving the evolution of cognitive abilities. However, mate choice and mate attraction involve acquiring, processing and acting upon information. To address the role of sexual selection in the evolution of those skills, we study cognitive performance of fruit flies that evolved for over 100 generations under enforced monogamy, a regime that virtually eliminates sexual selection. Our preliminary results indicate that males evolved under monogamy are less adept at focusing their courtship effort on receptive females in complex social environments and also show some impairment in olfactory learning outside of the sexual context. This suggests that sexual selection is a major force maintaining cognitive abilities in fruit fly males.

Adaptation to chronic malnutrition

It has been increasingly recognized that responses to nutritional stress during development may have far-reaching consequences for adult life, including aging processes. At the same time, mechanisms of responses to nutritional environment seem highly conserved. Thus, understanding how evolution shapes these responses is likely to throw light on early-life determinants of human aging and metabolic disease. We work with flies which, in the course of over 100 generations, evolved improved tolerance to an extremely poor larval food, on which non-adapted populations show 30 % reduction in viability, three-fold longer larval development, and adult size reduced by half. We aim to understand the life history, physiological, behavioral, and genomic traits that mediate the evolutionary adaptation to this chronic nutritional stress in our experimentally evolved populations. We also address the costs of this adaptation. Recent results indicate that the malnutrition-tolerant populations are more susceptible to intestinal bacterial pathogens despite having an apparently higher expression of immune defense genes. Ongoing experiments aim to detect the underlying causes of this apparent trade-off, focusing on the double role of the gut in extracting resources from food and defense against ingested pathogens.

Genomic approaches to experimental evolution

The advent of low-cost high-throughput genomic technologies opens new possibilities to understand the genetic and molecular bases of evolutionary change. We are applying this approach to experimental evolution, aiming to identify candidate molecular mechanism of tolerance to malnutrition and genes under sexual selection, as well as to study the signature of sexually antagonistic selection in gene expression patterns.

Adaptive and ecological significance of cannibalism

Through serendipity, we recently discovered that Drosophila larvae engage in predatory cannibalism, whereby younger larvae pursue, attack and consume fully-grown larvae as the latter prepare for pupation. Behavioral experiments revealed that this phenomenon has hallmarks of a coordinated adaptive behavior rather than an opportunistic byproduct of accidental encounters. Furthermore, nutrients derived from cannibalism allow larvae to complete their development in the absence of other food, and populations that evolved under chronic larval malnutrition (see above) have become more efficient cannibals. Hear Roshan Vijendravarma (the lead researcher on this project) talk about this work on the BBC and see videos of cannibalism on Roshan's website. Currently, Roshan is trying to identify some of the chemical cues that trigger cannibalism – we know that cannibals are attracted to injured potential victims.

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Hollis B., Houle D., Kawecki T.J., 2016. Evolution of reduced post-copulatory molecular interactions in Drosophila populations lacking sperm competition. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 29(1) pp. 77-85. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Stillwell R.C., Shingleton A.W., Dworkin I., Frankino W.A., 2016. Tipping the scales: Evolution of the allometric slope independent of average trait size. Evolution 70(2) pp. 433-444. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Hollis B., Kawecki T.J., Keller L., 2015. No evidence that within-group male relatedness reduces harm to females in Drosophila. Ecology and Evolution 5(4) pp. 979-983. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T. J., 2015. Can test-tube evolution explain biodiversity? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 30(10) pp. 568-569. [Document] [DOI]
Morier-Genoud R., Kawecki T.J., 2015. The effect of learning on the evolution of new courtship behavior: a simulation model. Current Zoology 61(6) pp. 1062-1072. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science]
Narasimha S., Kolly S., Sokolowski M.B., Kawecki T.J., Vijendravarma R.K., 2015. Prepupal Building Behavior in Drosophila melanogaster and Its Evolution under Resource and Time Constraints. PLoS One 10(2) pp. e0117280. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Nepoux V., Babin A., Haag C., Kawecki T.J., Le Rouzic A., 2015. Quantitative genetics of learning ability and resistance to stress in Drosophila melanogaster. Ecology and Evolution 5(3) pp. 543-556. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R.K., Kawecki T.J., 2015. Idiosyncratic evolution of maternal effects in response to juvenile malnutrition in Drosophila. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 28(4) pp. 876-884. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R.K., Narasimha S., Chakrabarti S., Babin A., Kolly S., Lemaitre B., Kawecki T.J., 2015. Gut physiology mediates a trade-off between adaptation to malnutrition and susceptibility to food-borne pathogens. Ecology Letters 18(10) pp. 1078-1086. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Babin A., Kolly S., Kawecki T.J., 2014. Virulent bacterial infection improves aversive learning performance in Drosophila melanogaster. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 41 pp. 152-161. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Babin A., Kolly S., Schneider F., Dolivo V., Zini M., Kawecki T.J., 2014. Fruit flies learn to avoid odours associated with virulent infection. Biology Letters 10(3) p. 20140048. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Hollis B., Houle D., Yan Z., Kawecki T.J., Keller L., 2014. Evolution under monogamy feminizes gene expression in Drosophila melanogaster. Nature Communications 5(3482) p. 3482. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Hollis B., Kawecki T.J., 2014. Male cognitive performance declines in the absence of sexual selection. Proceedings of the Royal Society. B Biological Sciences 281(1781) p. 20132873. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Stillwell R.C., Daws A., Davidowitz G., 2014. The ontogeny of sexual size dimorphism of a moth: when do males and females grow apart? PLoS One 9(9) pp. e106548. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Deen D., Hollis B., Zarpentine C., 2013. Darwin and the levels of selection. pp. 202-210 in Ruse M. (eds.) Cambridge encyclopedia of Darwin and evolutionary thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Kawecki T.J., 2013. The impact of learning on selection‐driven speciation. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 28(2) pp. 68-69. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R.K., Kawecki T.J., 2013. Epistasis and maternal effects in experimental adaptation to chronic nutritional stress in Drosophila. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 26(12) pp. 2566-2580. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R.K., Narasimha S., Kawecki T.J., 2013. Predatory cannibalism in Drosophila melanogaster larvae. Nature Communications 4 p. 1789. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Zrelec V., Zini M., Guarino S., Mermoud J., Oppliger J., Valtat A., Zeender V., Kawecki T.J., 2013. Drosophila rely on learning while foraging under semi-natural conditions. Ecology and Evolution 3(12) pp. 4139-4148. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Hollis B., 2012. Rapid antagonistic coevolution between strains of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences 279(1742) pp. 3565-3571. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T.J., Lenski R.E., Ebert D., Hollis B., Olivieri I., Whitlock M.C., 2012. Experimental evolution. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27(10) pp. 547-560. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T.J., Lenski R.E., Ebert D., Hollis B., Olivieri I., Whitlock M.C., 2012. The value of complementary approaches in evolutionary research: reply to Magalhães and Matos. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 27(12) pp. 650-651. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science]
Vijendravarma R.K., Narasimha S., Kawecki T.J., 2012. Chronic malnutrition favours smaller critical size for metamorphosis initiation in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 25(2) pp. 288-292. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R.K., Narasimha S., Kawecki T.J., 2012. Evolution of foraging behaviour in response to chronic malnutrition in Drosophila melanogaster. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B Biological Sciences 279(1742) pp. 3540-3546. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Hollis B., Houle D., 2011. Populations with elevated mutation load do not benefit from the operation of sexual selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24(9) pp. 1918-1926. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R. K., Narasimha S., Kawecki T. J., 2011. Adaptation to larval malnutrition does not affect fluctuating asymmetry in Drosophila melanogaster. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 104(1) pp. 19-28. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science]
Vijendravarma R.K., Narasimha S., Kawecki T.J., 2011. Plastic and evolutionary responses of cell size and number to larval malnutrition in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 24(4) pp. 897-903. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Burger J.M.S., Buechel S.D., Kawecki T.J., 2010. Dietary restriction affects lifespan but not cognitive aging in Drosophila melanogaster. Aging Cell 9(3) pp. 327-335. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T. J., 2010. Evolutionary ecology of learning: insights from fruit flies. Population Ecology 52(1) pp. 15-25. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science]
Nepoux V., Haag C.R., Kawecki T.J., 2010. Effects of inbreeding on aversive learning in Drosophila. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 23(11) pp. 2333-2345. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vijendravarma R.K., Narasimha S., Kawecki T.J., 2010. Effects of parental larval diet on egg size and offspring traits in Drosophila. Biology Letters 6(2) pp. 238-241. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Henzi T., Blum W.V., Pfefferli M., Kawecki T.J., Salicio V., Schwaller B., 2009. SV40-induced expression of calretinin protects mesothelial cells from asbestos cytotoxicity and may be a key factor contributing to mesothelioma pathogenesis. American Journal of Pathology 174(6) pp. 2324-2336. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kolss M., Vijendravarma R.K., Schwaller G., Kawecki T.J., 2009. Life-history consequences of adaptation to larval nutritional stress in Drosophila. Evolution 63(9) pp. 2389-2401. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Népoux V., 05-2009. L'évolution du vivant expliquée à ma boulangère. 106 p., In Libro Veritas. [Document] [url editor site]
Paenke I., Kawecki T.J., Sendhoff B., 2009. The influence of learning on evolution: a mathematical framework. Artificial Life 15(2) pp. 227-245. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Rhodes J. S., Kawecki T. J., 2009. Behavior and neurobiology. pp. 263-300 in Garland T., Rose M. R. (eds.) Experimental evolution: concepts, methods, and applications of selection experiments. University of California Press, Berkeley.
Sutter M., Kawecki T.J., 2009. Influence of learning on range expansion and adaptation to novel habitats. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 22(11) pp. 2201-2214. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Burger J.M., Kolss M., Pont J., Kawecki T.J., 2008. Learning ability and longevity: a symmetrical evolutionary trade-off in Drosophila. Evolution 62(6) pp. 1294-1304. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T.J., 2008. Adaptation to marginal habitats. Annual Review of Ecology Evolution and Systematics 39 pp. 321-342. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science]
Mery F., Belay A.T., So A.K., Sokolowski M.B., Kawecki T.J., 2007. Natural polymorphism affecting learning and memory in Drosophila. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104(32) pp. 13051-13055. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Mery F., Pont J., Preat T., Kawecki T.J., 2007. Experimental evolution of olfactory memory in Drosophila melanogaster. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 80(4) pp. 399-405. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Paenke I., Sendhoff B., Kawecki T.J., 2007. Influence of plasticity and learning on evolution under directional selection. American Naturalist 170(2) pp. E47-E58. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Rion S., Kawecki T.J., 2007. Evolutionary biology of starvation resistance: what we have learned from Drosophila. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 20(5) pp. 1655-1664. [Document] [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Vonlanthen S., Kawecki T.J., Betticher D.C., Pfefferli M., Schwaller B., 2007. Heterozygosity of SNP513 in intron 9 of the human calretinin gene (CALB2) is a risk factor for colon cancer. Anticancer Research 27(6C) pp. 4279-4288. [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kolss M., Kraaijeveld A.R., Mery F., Kawecki T.J., 2006. No trade-off between learning ability and parasitoid resistance in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 19(4) pp. 1359-1363. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Paenke I., Kawecki T. J., Sendhoff B., 2006. On the influence of lifetime learning on selection pressure. pp. 500-506 in Rocha Luis M., et al. (eds.) Artificial Life X. Proceedings of the Tenth International Conference on the Simulation and Synthesis of Living Systems. MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Document]
Mery F., Kawecki T.J., 2005. A cost of long-term memory in Drosophila. Science 308(5725) p. 1148. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Ebert D., Salathe P., Kawecki T. J., 2004. Evidence for epistasis: reply to Trouve et al. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 17(6) pp. 1402-1404. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T. J., 2004. Ecological and evolutionary consequences of source-sink population dynamics. pp. 387-414 in Hanski I., Gaggiotti O.E. (eds.) Ecology, genetics, and evolution of metapopulations. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Kawecki T. J., 2004. Genetical theories of sympatric speciation. pp. 36-53 in Dieckmann U., et al. (eds.) Adaptive Speciation. Cambridge Studies in Adaptive Dynamics 4. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Kawecki T. J., Ebert D., 2004. Conceptual issues in local adaptation. Ecology Letters 7(12) pp. 1225-1241. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Mery F., Kawecki T. J., 2004. An operating cost of learning in Drosophila melanogaster. Animal Behaviour 68(3) pp. 589-598. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Spichtig M., Kawecki T. J., 2004. The maintenance (or not) of polygenic variation by soft selection in heterogeneous environments. American Naturalist 164(1) pp. 70-84. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T.J., 2003. Sex-biased dispersal and adaptation to marginal habitats. American Naturalist 162(4) pp. 415-426. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T.J., Mery F., 2003. Evolutionary conservatism of geographic variation in host preference in Callosobruchus maculatus. Ecological Entomology 28(4) pp. 449-456. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Mery F., Kawecki T.J., 2003. A fitness cost of learning ability in Drosophila melanogaster. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B Biological Sciences 270(1532) pp. 2465-2469. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kawecki T.J., Holt R.D., 2002. Evolutionary consequences of asymmetric dispersal rates. American Naturalist 160(3) pp. 333-347. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Mery F., Kawecki T.J., 2002. Experimental evolution of learning ability in fruit flies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 99(22) pp. 14274-14279. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Kern S., Ackermann M., Stearns S.C., Kawecki T.J., 2001. Decline in offspring viability as a manifestation of aging in Drosophila melianogaster. Evolution 55(9) pp. 1822-1831. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Stadler B., Fiedler K., Kawecki T.J., Weisser W.W., 2001. Costs and benefits for phytophagous myrmecophiles: when ants are not always available. Oikos 92(3) pp. 467-478. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T.J., 2000. Adaptation to marginal habitats: contrasting influence of the dispersal rate on the fate of alleles with small and large effects. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B Biological Sciences 267(1450) pp. 1315-1320. [DOI] [Web of Science] [Pubmed]
Abrams P.A., Kawecki T.J., 1999. Adaptive host preference and the dynamics of host-parasite interactions. Theoretical Population Biology 56(3) pp. 307-324. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T.J., 1999. Contributions to A Concise Encyclopedia of Ecology. in Calow P. (eds.) Blackwell's concise encyclopedia of ecology. Blackwell, Oxford.
Kawecki T.J., Abrams P.A., 1999. Character displacement mediated by the accumulation of mutations affecting resource consumption abilities. Evolutionary Ecology Research 1(2) pp. 173-188. [Web of Science]
Kawecki T. J., 1998. Contributions. in Calow P. (eds.) The encyclopedia of ecology and environmental management. Blackwell, Oxford.
Kawecki T.J., Barton N.H., Fry J.D., 1997. Mutational collapse of fitness in marginal habitats and the evolution of ecological specialisation. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 10(3) pp. 407-429. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T.J., 1996. Sympatric speciation driven by beneficial mutations. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B Biological Sciences 263(1376) pp. 1515-1520. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T.J., 1995. Demography of source-sink populations and the evolution of ecological niches. Evolutionary Ecology 9(1) pp. 38-44. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Stearns S.C., Kaiser M., Kawecki T.J., 1995. The differential genetic and environmental canalization of fitness components in Drosophila melanogaster. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 8(5) pp. 539-558. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Stearns S.C., Kawecki T.J., 1994. Fitness sensitivity and the canalization of life history traits. Evolution 48(5) pp. 1438-1450. [Web of Science]
Brett M.T., Martin L., Kawecki T.J., 1992. An experimental test of the egg-ratio method: estimated versus observed death rates. Freshwater Biology 28(2) pp. 237-248. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Kawecki T.J., 1991. Sex linked altruism: A stepping stone in the evolution of social behaviour? Journal of Evolutionary Biology 4(3) pp. 487-500. [DOI] [Web of Science]
Phd thesis
Lehto Hürlimann M., 2014. Evolutionary and ecological significance of non-shivering thermogenesis in the common vole. 204 p., Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine, Bize P. (dir.).
Babin A., 2012. Interactions between learning and immunity in Drosophila melanogaster. 126 p., Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine, Kawecki, T. J. (dir.).
Népoux V., 2011. Natural variation in learning ability in "Drosophila melanogaster". 105 p., Université de Lausanne, Faculté de biologie et médecine, Kawecki T. (dir.). [Document]


Tadeusz J. Kawecki
Office room: 3111
Phone: +41 21 692 4161
Fax: +41 21 692 4165

Administrative assistant
Office room: 3109
Phone: +4121 692 4205
Fax: +4121 692 4265

Biophore - CH-1015 Lausanne  - Switzerland  -  Tel. +41 21 692 41 60  -  Fax +41 21 692 41 65
Swiss University