A Therevid fly.

A Therevid fly.

Fly, mosquito and midge (Diptera) research at CSIRO

Research on Diptera at the Australian National Insect Collection (ANIC) is helping scientists better understand the evolution and relationships that this group of insects has with the environment.

  • 10 March 2006 | Updated 28 April 2013

Diptera (flies, mosquitoes and midges) is one of the five mega-diverse insect orders, spanning a wide range of anatomical, biological and ecological specialisations.

Diptera currently comprises approximately 150 000 described species in 150 families. However, the total number is much higher if species which are still to be described are included.

It is estimated that there are 30 000 species of Diptera in Australia, of which only 6 400 have been described, from 104 families.

Flies can be distinguished from other insects because:

  • they have two functional wings
  • their hind pair of wings have been reduced to small balancing organs called halteres.

Almost all flies have mouthparts that are adapted for lapping or piercing and sucking.

Key issues

The Australian continent is home to a large number of Diptera species.

A diverse component of the world’s fly fauna is unique to Australia. The Australian continent is home to a large number of Diptera species. Flies are ubiquitous and often abundant in Australian terrestrial ecosystems.

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

Many species of Diptera are regarded as a nuisance. These include:

  • bush fly (Musca vetutissima)
  • mosquitoes
  • sandflies and blackflies.

Flies outrank other insect orders in terms of medical and veterinary significance, being 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 various encephalides. Malaria has been eradicated from Australia.

Current projects

Phylogenomics of flies
David's group has had a long interest in establishing the critical branches and radiations in fly evolution. In collaboration with Dr Brian Wiegmann (North Carolina State University) and the IKITE consortium [external link], the group is 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 schema of this medium-sized family (4 000 species), compare reconstructed phylogenies (evolutionary pathways) with historical geographies of associated land masses, and determine the placement of therevids in the Asiloidea superfamily.

Systematics of world horse flies (Tabanidae)
PhD student Mr Bryan Lessard is studying the relationships and biogeography of the genus Scaptia and other members of the Tribe Scionini.

Guide to Australian Insect Families
A Taxonomy Research and Information Network (TRIN) project to develop and deploy web based interactive keys to all 640 Australian insect families. See What Bug is That?

Coevolution of flies and Eucalypts
Nematodes of the genus Fergusobia have a symbiotic relationship with fergusoninid flies (Fergusoninidae), and carry out part of their life cycle in the abdomen of female flies, and part of their life cycle inside galls on Myrtaceous plants such as Eucalyptus. PhD student Michaela Purcell is studying the coevolution of the flies, their nematodes and host myrtaceous plants.

Phylogeography and relationships of the wingless commensal fly Badisis ambulans
David is collaborating with CSIRO researcher Dr Tek Tay, and University of Adelaide researcher Dr John Conran to understand the relationships of the wingless micropezid fly Badisis ambulans. The larvae of the fly are commensal in pitchers of the Albany pitcher plant, Cephalotus. All populations of the plant have the flies, and there are very deep phylogeographic splits between populations of the flies that are not seen in the genetic diversity of the plants.

Learn more about the Australian National Insect Collection.