Understanding the rate of evolutionary change and the genetic architecture that facilitates rapid adaptation is a current challenge in evolutionary biology. Comparative studies show that genes with immune function are among the most rapidly evolving genes in a range of taxa. Here, we use immune defense in natural populations of D. melanogaster to understand the rate of evolution in natural populations and the genetics underlying the rapid change. We probed the immune system using the natural pathogens Enterococcus faecalis and Providencia rettgeri to measure post-infection survival and bacterial load of wild D. melanogaster populations collected across seasonal time along a latitudinal transect on the eastern North America (Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia). There are pronounced and repeatable changes in the immune response over approximately 10 generations between the spring and fall populations with a significant but less distinct difference among geographic locations. Genes with known immune function are not enriched among alleles that cycle with seasonal time, but the immune function of a subset of seasonally cycling alleles in immune genes was tested using reconstructed outbred populations. We find that flies containing seasonal alleles in Thioester-containing protein 3 (Tep3) have different functional responses to infection and that epistatic interactions among seasonal Tep3 and Drosomycin-like 6 (Dro6) alleles produce the immune phenotypes observed in natural populations. This rapid, cyclic response to seasonal environmental pressure broadens our understanding of the complex ecological and genetic interactions determining the evolution of immune defense in natural populations.

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