Fruitflies: a major threat to fruit and vegetable production

How to manage and prevent them?

A new international project will try to predict potential pests, produce reliable detection and identification tools and develop an innovative pest management.

bactrocera_dorsalis

Female Bactrocera dorsalis, one of the target fruit fly species of the FF-IPM project © A. Rodriguez

 

Globalisation and climate change

Fruit fly pests have spread from one continent to another and are considered as one of the major threats for the horticulture in both tropical and temperate regions. The number of these invasive pests is on the rise because of an increase in global trade and travel and climate change.

A new EU funded project within the H2020 program with partners from over 17 countries throughout the world, including the RMCA, aims to prevent and mitigate the impact of fruit fly pests and secure sustainable food production in Europe.

The project focuses on three invasive fruit flies that form a major threat: the Oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera dorsalis) and the Peach fruit fly (Bactrocera zonata), both of Asian origin but already widely spread in the Middle East and Africa. The third species, the Mediterranean fruit fly (Ceratitis capitata), is a well established pest in the Mediterranean Basin but is spreading further northwards in Europe because of changing climatic conditions.

 

Based on our expertise in the identification of fruit flies in Africa, the RMCA will coordinate the development of reliable detection and identification tools

Prediction, detection & identification

The project aims at developing tools and databases that can reliably predict where and when invasive pests are likely to enter Europe. By obtaining the necessary biological data, spatial models allowing to make predictions on likely points of entry and invasion routes of the target pest species, will be developed.

Secondly, the project will produce rapid detection and identification tools. This includes electronic traps for automated detection and ‘e-Nose’, electronic noses to sniff out infested fruits in import consignments. But also user friendly ways to correctly identify detected or intercepted flies in a reliable, easy, fast, and relatively cheap way are key to an effective management of new pests.

”Based on our expertise in the identification of fruit flies in Africa, the RMCA will coordinate the development of these tools, which are both based on morphological as well as genetic characteristics. We will also perform population genetics research tracing the origin of potential invasions”, explains entomologist Marc De Meyer, technical manager of the project. “Some of these potentially invasive pests were already introduced in Africa where they caused extensive economic damage. The experience we built up over the years, through collaboration with African partners, will be an asset. Some of these partners are actually also participating in this program.”

 

Innovative ‘offseason’ pest management

The project will also develop a management toolkit to suppress fruit flies, focusing on Integrated Pest Management (IPM). This comprises a diverse set of methodologies that are considered benign, without negative consequences both on human health and on the environment, such as natural predators and parasitoids.

However, the novel approach of this project is that it will target the use of such IPM tools in the ‘offseason’. Fruit flies demonstrate a decline in population levels during the winter periods. "By targeting the overwintering generation, we will prevent population growth later in season and hence reduce economic costs: fly populations will not have attained the high number of flies which would necessitate much more intensive control”, explains Marc De Meyer.