Exploitation of interspecific signals to deter oviposition by spotted-wing drosophila

Lead Research Organisation: University of Greenwich
Department Name: Agriculture Health & Environment, FES


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Technical Summary

The spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii (SWD), is the most serious pest threatening global horticulture and UK fruit production. This invasive species lays its eggs in fresh fruit, meaning growers are increasingly using insecticides for crop protection. Recently published work from NIAB EMR has shown SWD avoid ovipositing in fruit and media previously exposed to the co-occurring species Drosophila melanogaster. This BBSRC-IPA project will elucidate the source and chemical nature of this deterrent and determine the method through which it is perceived by SWD. The results will elucidate how this important pest species has evolved to avoid co-occurring species, and how this behaviour can be exploited for crop protection.

We will conduct oviposition choice assays to determine whether D. melanogaster eggs or adults are the source of the oviposition deterrent, and if this effect is restricted to D. melanogaster, or common among other species which are sympatric with SWD. We will further elucidate the deterrent source through bioassays with chemical extractions from adults and eggs, and use of transgenic lines of D. melanogaster which do not produce cuticular hydrocarbons.

Determining if the deterrent is detected by SWD at a distance via olfaction or on contact via gustation is critical to its exploitation. Thus, we will repeat bioassays using SWD with ablated candidate sensory organs, and transgenic lines with non-functioning olfactory systems. Electrophysiological studies will be used to identify receptors responsible for detection, and to characterize compounds in extracts responsible for oviposition deterrence. These chemicals will be identified through mass-spectrometry, synthesized and then formulated for release as capsules, flakes or sprays which will be tested in semi-field trials for their effectiveness in protecting crops. A knowledge exchange programme will identify how this tool can be best applied by growers for crop protection.

Planned Impact

The invasive fruit pest spotted wing drosophila, Drosophila suzukii, has spread from Southeast Asia to Europe and the US in recent years and become the most serious pest threatening the future of the horticulture industries in these countries. In the UK soft and stone fruit has a market value of £480 m and crop losses due to D. suzukii range from 25-100%. Current control measures rely extensively on synthetic insecticides, but regulatory restrictions, ecological impacts and likely future emergence of insecticide resistance make this strategy unsustainable in the longer term. This project will aim to determine the mechanisms through which SWD avoid ovipositing in fruit previously exposed to co-occurring Drosophila species, and how these can be exploited in management of the pest.

Grower Impact
The project is supported by Berry Garden Growers (BGG), the UK's leading berry and stone fruit production and marketing group with a market share of 30% and a year-round business supplying UK retailers. Current cost of control of D. suzukii in the UK is estimated at £20-30 m pa, arising from costs of monitoring, additional pesticide applications, insect mesh, impacts on IPM programmes against other pests and additional labour costs for frequent picking and removal of waste fruit. Growers will benefit from a new approach to control of the pest based on naturally-occurring chemicals that will be compatible with integrated pest management. This will contribute towards improved productivity and reduction of waste in the horticultural industry and help reduce the amount of conventional insecticides used.

Academic Impact
The results of this multidisciplinary project will benefit researchers investigating the role of chemical signals in mediating oviposition behaviour and interspecific interactions in insects in general. As a close relative of the model species D. melanogaster, there is global interest in how D. suzukii has evolved a different reproductive strategy, shifting from ovipositing on rotten fruit to fresh fruit, and the consequences for interspecific interactions between competing species. This project will provide evidence of the chemical and neurological basis through which D. suzukii detect the prior presence of D. melanogaster and other co-occurring species. This information can be applied directly to explore the genetic and evolutionary mechanisms resulting in divergence of ecological niches and reproductive isolation in Drosophila species.

Commercial Impact
As well as growers, economic beneficiaries of this project will include producers and processors of foods which require a supply of fresh, undamaged fruit, and vendors of fresh fruit and fruit products. Sustainable UK fruit production means vendors and processors will be less reliant on imported substitutes and less vulnerable to any future tariffs which this may incur.

Any pest control products arising from this project will require production and marketing by a commercial company which benefit from sales throughout Europe and the US where D. suzukii occurs.

Wider Impact
This project supports the BBSRC Research in Agriculture and Food Security Strategic Framework, the Government's policy to protect crops while reducing the environmental impact of pesticides (A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment) and the EU Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive 2009/128/EC. Our technology will reduce the need for pesticides against D. suzukii, reducing pesticide residues in food and water, and negative impacts on economically-important beneficial insects, including pollinators, in crops. Ensuring fruit complies with international standards for pesticide residues is essential for both national consumption and external export.

Rural communities will benefit especially due to reduced threat of job losses and improved productivity in fruit growing regions, with further benefits across the UK where fruit is processed and sold.
Description Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) is a fly which lays eggs in ripening fruit and the larvae then feed on and destroy the fruit. It appeared in the UK in 2013 and is now the most damaging pest in the UK horticulture and soft fruit industry. In this project it was found that SWD is inhibited from laying eggs at sites where eggs have already been laid by the related and more common species, Drosophila melanogaster. The reason for this is suspected to be chemical, and if the chemicals involved can be identified they could be a powerful means of preventing SWD laying eggs in fruit. The project is determining whether these chemicals come from the adult fly, eggs or larvae, and various chemical blends have already been tested.
Extensive studies on which life stage of D. melanogaster is responsible for the deterrence of oviposition by SWD have indicated that the presence of live larvae is required. Cuticular hydrocarbons associated with adults, eggs and larvae of both D. melanogaster and SWD have been identified and synthesised, but neither the naturally-produced compounds nor synthetic blends have been shown to affect egg laying by SWD. It is concluded that possibly chemicals produced by microbes in/on the larvae are responsible for the effect.
A scientific paper describing this work is being submitted
Exploitation Route Once the mechanism of inhibition of egg laying in SWD by D. melanogaster has been established, it could provide a powerful, environmentally-acceptable tool for protecting fruit from SWD.
Sectors Agriculture

Food and Drink


Description Ecofruit 2024 meeting in Germany, February 2024 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Meeting of organic fruit growers from several European countries. This was a talk given by one of the project advisors
Catching apple and pear sawfly on white sticky roller tape G. Brouwer, Delphy (NL). EcoFruit Conference Feb 2024
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2024
URL https://www.ecofruit.net/
Description Fruit Focus July 2023 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Fruit Focus - annual gathering of fruit growers at NIAB East Malling with presentations and commercial stands
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2023
URL https://www.fruitfocus.co.uk/
Description Presentation at Entomological Society of America Annual Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Interspecific signals to deter oviposition by spotted-wing drosophila (Drosophila suzukii, SWD); Fountain, M.T. Powell, G., Shaw B., Bray D., Harte S., Farman D, Hall D., Wijnen H., 1Tungadi, T.D,
EntomologicalSociety of America 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting attended by 3,200 scientists world-wide
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.entsoc.org/entomology2020
Description RES Special Interest Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Tungadi, T.D, Powell, G., Shaw B., Bray D., Harte S., Farman D, Hall D., Wijnen H., Fountain, M.T.
Presentation at Royal Entomological Society Behaviour Special Interest Group, September 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020