Fruit flies are major economic pests, and as such there is an ongoing need for their control. Nearly all the research carried out by the QUT FFG is strategically focused to provide the scientific basis for the development of new or improved fruit fly management tools. Sometimes the link between university research and pest management can appear opaque, but the links are nevertheless there. Some examples are as follow.
Predicting Queensland fruit fly populations
One of the most fundamental requirements for pest management is being able to predict when pest populations will be present in the field. For nearly 40 years this has been done through computer modelling, with the models built upon biological data of the target pest. All prior attempts to accurately model Qfly populations have essentially failed, largely because of an inability to understand the parameters which lead Qfly to disappear in autumn and reappear in the very early spring. Temperature and day length, the usual predictors to explain such patterns, do not work for Qfly. As part of her PhD in the QUTFFG, Dr Shahrima Tasnin (now QDAF) identified a previously unrecognised quiescence mechanism in Qfly which may be the solution to the problem. Working with state government colleagues from Queensland, NSW and Victoria, as part of a DAWE funded project, QUT is continuing to work on this problem through the application of genomic and physiological tools. The ultimate aim is a predictive Qfly population model which works, allowing the better timing of in-field controls.
Population structuring and species boundaries
Pest management commonly treats a given pest, such as Queensland fruit fly or Jarvis’s fruit fly, as a single entity: exactly the same thing across its entire distribution. Very rarely is this the case. Different populations of species can show subtle differences to each other which are increasingly detectable through genetic tools. These differences, and the application of the analyses, can allow us to ask questions such as “where are my flies coming from”, “where are they breeding”, “is my farm isolated from other fly populations or am I part of larger population”? Quarantine organisation can use such information to ask about the origin, and possible pathways, or invasive pests. The QUT fruit fly group has a historical strength is such work, with both domestic and off-shore fly species, and out current work is investigating species wide population structuring in several of the less-known pest species, and the impact of landscape features on the movement of Qfly.
Integrated pest management (IPM) strongly encourages the use of natural enemies for sustainable control. While widely used over-seas, fruit fly natural enemies have been very poorly utilised in Australia. Small parasitic wasps are the best known fruit fly biocontrol agents, but their active manipulation in Australia for fruit fly management all but ended in the mid-1960s with the advent of the then new generation organophosphate cover-sprays. With the regulatory loss of those chemicals for most fruit fly management, QUT is actively engaged in a new generation of research on fruit fly natural enemies.
Education and training
Universities are, primarily, educational institutions, and the postgraduate training offered by the QUT FFG has already significantly increased Australian and regional biosecurity. Alumni of the lab currently occupy fruit fly orientated research positions in the state departments of agriculture for the Northern Territory, Queensland, N.S.W., Victoria and South Australia. Off-shore our alumni are helping to strengthen plant health and quarantine in Thailand, Bhutan, India and the Western Pacific.