Invasive fruit fly may pose threat to forest ecosystems

The decay of fruits attacked by the spotted wing drosophila leads to a loss of resources, which can cause considerable ecological damage.

The invasive spotted wing drosophila (SWD), introduced from South-East Asia, is a well-known fruit crop pest. It lays its eggs by destroying the mechanical protection of the fruit’s skin, providing an entry point for further infestation. Egg deposition and inoculated microbes then accelerate decay, and as a result the fruit rots and becomes inedible. While this small fly is known to cause massive economic damage in agriculture, little is known about its ecological impact on more natural ecosystems such as forests.

The larvae of the invasive spotted wing drosophila develops in fruits of many forest species such as brambles. Its occurrence result in a fast decay of the fruits.

A recent study by Swiss scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL and the Ökobüro Biotopia, published in the scientific journal NeoBiota, concluded that the SWD competes strongly with other fruit-eating species and that its presence could have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems.

The research team assessed the use of potential host plants at 64 sites in forests from mid-June to mid-October 2020 by checking a total of 12,000 fruits for SWD egg deposits. To determine if SWD attacks trigger fruit decay, they also recorded symptoms of fruit decay after egg deposition. In addition, they monitored the fruit fly (drosophilid) fauna in the area, assuming that the SWD would outnumber and possibly outcompete other fruit-eating insects.

The male of the invasive spotted wing drosophila can be easily identified by the dark spots on the wings.

The authors found egg deposits on the fruits of 31 of the 39 fruit-bearing forest plant species they studied, with 18 species showing an attack rate of more than 50%. Furthermore, more than 50% of the affected plant species showed severe symptoms of decay after egg deposition. The egg depositions may alter the attractiveness of fruits, because they change their chemical composition and visual cues, such as colour, shape and reflective patterns, which in turn might lead seed dispersers such as birds to consume less fruits.

Given the large number of infested fruits, significant ecological impacts can be expected. “Rapid decay of fruits attacked by the spotted wing drosophila results in a loss of fruit available for other species competing for this resource, and may disrupt seed-dispersal mutualisms due to reduced consumption of fruit by dispersers such as birds,” says Prof. Martin M. Gossner, entomologist at the WSL. “If the fly reproduces in large numbers, both seed dispersers and plants could suffer.”

The females of the invasive spotted wing drosophila has an enlarged, serrated ovipositor to attack undamaged fruits, which gives it a competitive advantage over native fruit flies.

The authors further found that SWD were strongly represented and dominant in trap catches, and showed that the more abundant SWD were, the less abundant native drosophilids were. This suggests additional negative impacts of the invasive species on native communities.

With ongoing climate change, these potentially severe ecological impacts might be amplified in temperate forests, as higher average and winter temperatures will most likely lead to shorter generation times and lower winter mortality, which will eventually further increase the pressure on forest fruits and the competitiveness of the SWD over native drosophilids, the authors note.

Research article:
Bühlmann I, Gossner MM (2022) Invasive Drosophila suzukii outnumbers native controphics and causes substantial damage to fruits of forest plants. NeoBiota 77: 39-77.

Photos by Prof. Martin M. Gossner.

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Cage the fly: Walk-in field cages to assess mating compatibility in pest fruit flies

Fruit flies mating compatibility studies have been examined by an international team of researchers to assess the usefulness of walk-in field cages in studying the sexual behavior within fruit fly species complexes and recognition of taxonomically misplaced flies. In addition, they have also evaluated the relevant chemical signals during pheromone emission for species discrimination. The experimental part was conducted with the support of Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture in Seibersdorf, Austria. Their findings are published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Evolution has led to divergence in some groups, which sometimes results in new, yet very similar species. Hence, they might successfully confuse taxonomists, making them coin terms like ‘cryptic’ species, or in other words, distinct species misplaced under the same name.

However, these species are kept isolated from each other via reproductive barriers. Preventing interbreeding and hybridization, they can be ecological and mechanical, but also behavioral (i.e. sexual). The latter are behaviors or signals that affect recognition within a species, as well as attractiveness and mate choice. They affect their evolution and therefore, are key elements in species differentiation.

The authors of the present paper have found that the walk-in field cages methodology provides an appropriate ground to study these issues. By applying it, researchers around the world are able to detect pest species among others when occurring in the same populations.

Apart from taxonomic value, the scientists also point out the significance of these findings to pest management. As the studied pest fruit fly species are agricultural pests of major economic importance, assessing their mating behaviour, including the pheromones the males emit when attracting partners, can be utilised in the development of highly specific control methods. For instance, there is the sterile insect technique that involves releasing males reproductively sterilised via ionizing radiation into a wild population, where they inseminate the pest females with sterile sperm so that they end up with unviable offspring.

The main advantage of using walk-in field cages, rather than small laboratory-based ones, is that they provide semi-natural conditions under which they are “reliable and powerful tools to measure the level of mating compatibility among different species and populations of a putative single species.”

However, the present paper highlights that such an approach is only to be applied as a part of integrative taxonomic analyses, together with molecular, physiological and morphological approaches when assessing to which species a particular pest population belongs.


Original source:

Juarez ML, Devescovi F, Brizova R, Bachmann G, Segura DF, Kalinova B, Fernandez P, Ruiz MJ, Yang J, Teal PEA, Caceres C,, Vreysen MJB, Hendrichs J, Vera MT (2015) Evaluating mating compatibility within fruit fly cryptic species complexes and the potential role of sex pheromones in pre-mating isolation. In: De Meyer M, Clarke AR, Vera MT, Hendrichs J (Eds) Resolution of Cryptic Species Complexes of Tephritid Pests to Enhance SIT Application and Facilitate International Trade. ZooKeys 540: 125-155. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.540.6133