Entomologists keep fruit flies at bay

Fruit fly

Collection of data on fruit flies in South Africa will help improve pest management in Europe and contribute to development of technology such as sensors with which to detect infected fruit.

Insect experts from the Stellenbosch University Department of Conservation Ecology and Entomology are part of a large-scale research project involving experts from 15 countries. It aims to develop the science and technology needed to better detect, prevent and manage Europe’s growing fruit fly problem. The project is made even more urgent considering climate change.

The SU research groups of Prof John Terblanche, an expert in insect physiology, and Prof Pia Addison, an expert on matters related to pest management, are involved in the OFF-Season FF-IMP project. The project’s acronym stands for the “In-silico boosted, pest prevention and off-season focused integrated pest management against new and emerging fruit flies”.

The OFF-Season FF-IPM project focusses on three specific species of true fruit flies (flies in the family Tephritidae). The eastern fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) and the peach fruit fly (Bactrocera zonata) are known invasive species and are considered as imminent threats to the production and marketing of fruit in Europe. The Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata) has recently become an emerging problem even in temperate fruit production areas on the continent.

The FF-IPM is an effort to effectively and timeously implement measures to prevent major invasions by these species of fruit flies. It aims to eradicate established species by focusing on specific out-of-season periods which are crucial to the insects’ development cycle. Innovative tools are being developed to prevent infected fruit from being transported or sold. This, for example, includes the development of a sensory device that picks up on the odour released by larvae inside a fruit. Methods will also be devised to locate emerging populations as early as possible using automated, real-time trapping methods. Population dynamic computer and software programmes will be used to ensure effective biological control and rapid response strategies.
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