We demonstrate that Drosophila melanogaster provides a rich model system for studying behavioral development. Two additions to the many well-known advantages of this species are exploited here. First, as in mammals and higher vertebrates, early experience affects behavioral development of Drosophila. Second, the affected behaviors are complex and yet readily studied in the laboratory. Thus, Drosophila can be used to study the developmental mechanisms by which organisms can optimize their behavioral repertoires to enhance their chances for survival. Evidence that early experience affects female responsiveness to courting males is reviewed; in each case, experience modifies responses to behavioral targets. Our results demonstrate that developmental plasticity allows adjustment of intrinsically determined responses to visual targets so that they can take into account the actual characteristics of the developing animal's environment. Furthermore, plasticity makes it possible to introduce 'cultural' and 'social' elements into courtship and mate choice in insects. This previously unrecognized role for developmental plasticity in insects has broad theoretical and practical implications.

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