21 March 2014

Insect's mating secrets key to protecting Aussie farms

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.

Fighting Q-fly with tiny technology

Show transcript

[Music plays and text appears: Technology to help fight Queensland Fruit Fly]

[Image changes to show an orchard and the camera zooms in on the fruit growing from the trees]

Narrator: Australia’s horticultural industry is worth $6.9 billion each year, with strong interest in Aussie fruit from a wide range of international markets.

[Image changes to show fruit fly samples captured in a jar]

But a tiny little pest is taking a large bite out of that, costing growers hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That pest is the Queensland fruit fly, or Q-Fly, and it has a nasty reputation.

[Image changes to show a picture of the Q-Fly on a leaf]

[Image changes to show Dr Paul De Barro, Research Scientist]

Dr Paul De Barro: There are a large number of fruit producers in Australia, from Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, all who depend on exports of fruit, either interstate or overseas. Queensland fruit fly threatens all of that.

[Image changes to show a computer generated map of Australia with a pink section spanning the eastern and northern side of Australia representing the area where the Q-Fly can be found]

Narrator: Q-Fly is a native pest occurring throughout eastern Australia and the Northern Territory.

[Image changes to show a sample of produce with fruit fly eggs]

Female Q-Flies lay their eggs inside the fruit, scarring the surface. When those eggs hatch the larvae eat the flesh of the fruit, making it unsalable.

[Image has changed back to Dr De Barro]

Dr Paul De Barro: Many, many hundreds of millions of dollars is consumed each year in terms of either management of fruit fly, maintaining fruit fly areas, and that costs growers, it costs industry, it costs governments money.

[Image changes to show Dr De Barro and colleagues in a laboratory looking at fruit fly samples]

Narrator: As a result CSIRO researchers have now placed this elusive species firmly in their sights in a bid to reduce their numbers and the impact they have on Australian growers.

[Image has changed back to Dr De Barro]

Dr Paul De Barro: Despite Queensland fruit fly being the most important pest of horticulture fruit and vegetable production, we actually know remarkably little about it, especially about what it does, its biology and ecology in the field.

[Image changes to show Dr De Barro and colleagues inside a netted area with fruit flies. Camera zooms in on a fruit fly and its sensor]

Narrator: In order to learn more CSIRO will be using tiny sensors placed on the fruit fly to monitor where they go and where they breed. If they can learn the habits and behaviours of this destructive pest they can develop control measures that cut them off at the source.

[Image changes to show Dr Gary Fitt, Biosecurity Flagship Director]

Dr Gary Fitt: What this technology will allow us to do, because we better understand the insect’s perception of the environment, is to optimise where we put traps in landscapes to have a better chance of early detection of an invasive pest.

[Image changes to show a computer generated information sheet on the Q-Fly with information on threat and solution]

Narrator: It will also provide insights into where these insects breed, allowing researchers to release sterile males into those areas, preventing them from reproducing.

[Image has changed back to Dr De Barro]

Dr Paul De Barro: Reducing the damage it causes, reducing the costs associated with loss of market access, it has the potential to enable us to export our fruit and vegetables to more countries because we’ll be better able to show that our growers are producing fruit which don’t have the fruit fly present.

[Image changes back to show Dr De Barro and colleagues in a laboratory looking at fruit fly samples]

Narrator: But CSIRO’s research doesn’t stop here. The next generation of sensors will generate power from insect movement, store the energy in batteries being developed at CSIRO, and will have some tracking capability to follow the insect’s movements in real time.

[Image changes to show a computer generated image of the fruit fly being tracked]

[Credits: Special thanks to those who have made content available for this video. Music: San-O at DanoSongs.com. Q-Fly image: James Niland http://www.flickr.com/photos/bareego/5436243640/ . Q-Fly damage: Rob Bob http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlPWwsPVoNY ]

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Hide transcript

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 $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."

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.  

"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."

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.

"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. 

Additional resources

Images

  • A Queensland fruit fly Download image

    Although only 8mm in length the Queensland fruit fly is one of Australia’s most economically damaging pests. © Image: James Niland

  • Micro sensing technology on a Q-fly Download image

    Micro sensing technology on Q-flies will help scientists manage this damaging pest. © Image: Paulo de Souza

Audio

Background information

Facts and stats:

  • Q-fly is native Australian fly, about 8 mm in length and is one of Australia’s most damaging pests of horticulture
  • South Australia is the only mainland Australian state that is fruit fly free. Tasmania too is free of the pest
  • In 2002–2006, the total average export value for Australia’s top 25 commodities that are host to fruit fly was A$432 million. The value of interstate trade of all host commodities subject to fruit fly quarantine requirements is estimated at A$1 billion annually (NFFS 2008)
  • Over the five year period from 2003-2008, Australian industry and government invested more than A$128 million in the management of fruit flies. This estimate did not include the costs to growers in fruit fly endemic areas of Australia for managing crops to prevent infestation and generate a product fit for both sale and consumption (NFFS 2008)
  • Fruit Fly Area Freedom in Australia allows access to a number of domestic and international markets and the fruit fly freedom status needs to be protected to allow access to export markets 
  • It has been estimated that fruit fly freedom for Tasmania is worth around A$20m per annum and the South Australian Riverland around A$80-100m per annum.
Expand background information

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