Learning ability can be substantially improved by artificial selection in animals ranging from Drosophila to rats. Thus these species have not used their evolutionary potential with respect to learning ability, despite intuitively expected and experimentally demonstrated adaptive advantages of learning. This suggests that learning is costly, but this notion has rarely been tested. Here we report correlated responses of life-history traits to selection for improved learning in Drosophila melanogaster. Replicate populations selected for improved learning lived on average 15% shorter than the corresponding unselected control populations. They also showed a minor reduction in fecundity late in life and possibly a minor increase in dry adult mass. Selection for improved learning had no effect on egg-to-adult viability, development rate, or desiccation resistance. Because shortened longevity was the strongest correlated response to selection for improved learning, we also measured learning ability in another set of replicate populations that had been selected for extended longevity. In a classical olfactory conditioning assay, these long-lived flies showed an almost 40% reduction in learning ability early in life. This effect disappeared with age. Our results suggest a symmetrical evolutionary trade-off between learning ability and longevity in Drosophila.
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Vol. 62 • No. 6