Limitation of size by hypoxia in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster
The size of an organism is of fundamental importance in all biological processes. It dictates many of the critical interactions and physical factors that delimit the envelope within which an organism can grow. We investigated the effects of reduced oxygen on size and development in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and showed that limiting the oxygen in the environment limits both whole animal and cell size. When oxygen levels were reduced from 20% in nitrogen to 15%, 10% and 7.5%, there was a linear decrease in both male and female mass. Both cell size and cell number decreased in low oxygen, but changes in cell size accounted for a larger proportion of the overall change in fly size. Cell numbers decreased by a maximum of 11% between flies reared in 20% oxygen and those reared in 7.5% oxygen, whereas cell surface area decreased by 17%. Low oxygen levels increased development time and mortality, but reduced fecundity. Reducing the level of oxygen available significantly slowed development times, with flies reared in 10% oxygen emerging on average 1.5 days later than those in 20% oxygen. The effect of oxygen on size is reversible during embryonic and larval development up to the pupal stage, when final size is set.