Our research into flies or Diptera is helping scientists better understand the evolution and ecology of this group of insects.

The Challenge

Identifying new fly species

Flies form one of the five most diverse insect orders, including about 150,000 described species in 150 families.

It's estimated that there are 30,000 species of fly in Australia, of which only 6400 have been described.

A bee flie with wings open sitting on a log

Bombyliidae, commonly known as bee flies are one of the largest families of Diptera © Atlas

Flies can be distinguished from other insects because they have only one pair of functional wings. Almost all flies have mouthparts that are adapted for lapping or piercing and sucking.

A large component of the world's fly fauna is unique to Australia. Flies are ubiquitous and often abundant in Australian terrestrial ecosystems.

They perform important ecological functions such as nutrient recycling, predation and pollination, and their larvae are often parasitoids of other insects.

Many species of fly are regarded as a nuisance, including the bush fly (Musca vetustissima), mosquitoes, sandflies and blackflies.

Flies are responsible for the transmission of a wide variety of disease-causing micro-organisms in humans and animals.

Most of these diseases are absent from Australia, with exceptions such as dengue fever and some types of encephalitis. Mosquito-borne malaria has been eradicated from Australia.

Our Response

Undertanding the evolution and ecology of flies

Our team at CSIRO are actively working on a number of fly related projects:

  • History of flies: We have for many years worked to establish the evolutionary history of flies. In collaboration with Dr Brian Wiegmann (North Carolina State University) and the IKITE consortium , we are now evaluating the utility of transcriptome data for phylogenetic research.
  • World monograph of stiletto flies (Diptera: Therevidae): The project goal is to produce a predictive classification of this medium-sized family (4000 species), compare reconstructed evolutionary pathways with historical geographies of associated land masses, and determine the placement of therevids in the superfamily Asiloidea.
  • Coevolution of flies and Eucalypts: PhD student Michaela Purcell is studying the coevolution of the flies, their nematodes, and host myrtaceous plants. Nematodes of the genus Fergusobia have a symbiotic relationship with flies in the family Fergusoninidae. They spend part of their life cycle in the abdomen of female flies, and part inside galls on Myrtaceous plants such as Eucalyptus.
  • Phylogeography and relationships of the wingless commensal fly Badisis ambulans: All populations of the plant have the flies, but there are very deep evolutionary differences between populations of the flies that are not reflected in the genetic diversity of the plants. The larvae of this fly are commensal in pitchers of the Albany pitcher plant, Cephalotus. Dr David Yeates is collaborating with CSIRO researcher Dr Tek Tay and University of Adelaide researcher Dr John Conran to understand the biology of the wingless fly, Badisis ambulans,
  • Exploring the evolution and systematics of the soldier flies (Diptera: Stratiomyidae): Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Bryan Lessard is employing next generation sequencing and phylogenomic techniques to investigate the evolution and biogeography of the soldier flies. This research aims to provide the first integrated morphological and molecular phylogenetic framework to establish novel generic limits for the family.


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