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Evolution of Plasticity in Response to Ethanol between Sister Species with Different Ecological Histories (Drosophila melanogaster and D. simulans)

When populations evolve adaptive reaction norms in response to novel environments, it can occur through a process termed genetic accommodation. Under this model, the initial response to the environment is widely variable between genotypes as a result of cryptic genetic variation, which is then refined by selection to a single adaptive response. Here, I empirically test these predictions from genetic accommodation by measuring reaction norms in individual genotypes and across several time points. I compare two species of Drosophila that differ in their adaptation to ethanol (D. melanogaster and D. simulans). Both species are human commensals with a recent cosmopolitan expansion, but only D. melanogaster is adapted to ethanol exposure. Using gene expression as a phenotype and an approach that combines information about expression and alternative splicing, I find that D. simulans exhibits cryptic genetic variation in the response to ethanol, while D. melanogaster has almost no genotype-specific variation in reaction norm. This is evidence for adaptation to ethanol through genetic accommodation, suggesting that the evolution of phenotypic plasticity could be an important contributor to the ability to exploit novel resources.