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Insect's Mating Secrets Key to Protecting Australia's Farms

07 July 2014

CSIRO scientists are combining micro sensing, sterile insect technology and new insect trapping systems to protect our farms from one of Australia’s most economically damaging pest - the Queensland fruit fly.

Although only 8mm in length the Queensland fruit fly, or Q-fly, is a highly mobile insect capable of infecting a wide range of major fruit and vegetable crops, including stone and tropical fruits. The spread of Q-fly in Australia’s eastern states is threatening the nation’s A$6.9 billion horticultural industry, which relies on both domestic and international trade.

Until recently, farmers located in areas where Q-fly is present have used agri-chemicals – such as dimethoate and fenthion – to prevent and manage incursions. However, after a long period of review, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has recently restricted the use of these insecticides.

According to CSIRO researcher Dr Paul De Barro, increased Q-fly numbers can also threaten status of pest free areas.

"We believe that our sterile insect technology (SIT), through development of a male-only line of Q-fly, will offer a new environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost effective approach to assist in managing this damaging pest." Dr De Barro said.

"SIT is a scientifically proven method for suppressing or eradicating fruit fly populations and managing their potential impacts in horticulture production areas."

This biological control method has already been used with great success around the world and in South Australia to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly. However, the development of male-only sterile Q-fly is a first.

"Despite all our knowledge of fruit flies, we do not actually know where they go to breed," Dr De Barro said.

"When you’re looking to deploy sterile male flies to disrupt the mating cycle this information is a critical piece of the puzzle."

We believe that our sterile insect technology (SIT), through development of a male-only line of Q-fly, will offer a new environmentally friendly, sustainable and cost effective approach to assist in managing this damaging pest.”

By using micro sensing technology on Q-flies, as we have done with honey bees in Tasmania, CSIRO will be able to answer that question and, most importantly, understand where to deploy sterile Q-flies and also how to make better use of other management options such as new trapping systems and pheromone baits.

"It will tell us how many sterile flies we will need to release and most importantly, when to release them," Dr De Barro said.

According to Horticulture Australia Limited’s David Moore, General Manager R&D Services, this initiative is the first effort in a long time at investing in medium to long term research that will provide a sustainable solution to Australia’s fruit fly problem and its impact on production and market access."Combining SIT with other sensor technologies represents a game-changing opportunity as it not only provides us with information about how the Q-fly interacts with its natural environment, but offers real opportunities to reduce the cost of current monitoring networks for fruit fly."

"There is still a lot of work to be done but compared to examples of overseas best practice along with the shared vision and dedicated support of key investors and industry, we’re confident that this project will deliver real impact for Australian farming communities," Mr Moore said.

CSIRO, Horticulture Australia Limited, Plant and Food Research, the Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia and New South Wales Department of Primary Industries are working together to develop a male only line of sterile Q-fly.

More information can be found on the SITplus project.

July 2014

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