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April 14, 2021

Backpack bugs will track Queensland Fruit Fly

Sterile Insect Technology and micro-surveillance are replacing insecticide in the battle against the Queensland Fruit Fly. The Queensland Fruit Fly is an introduced species and a major threat to the $6.9 billion horticultural industry in Australia. Particularly up and down the eastern seaboard of Australia.

Queensland fruit fly

Insecticides Dimethoate and Fenthion were used to control the pest until the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority restricted the use of these chemicals in 2013. The insecticides posed an unacceptable threat to human health, but were also toxic to bird, aquatic and other wildlife.

Any relief for the Queensland Fruit Fly is likely to be short lived as new eradication techniques like Sterile Insect Technology become available.

SIT involves the production of large numbers of sterile male flies  released into orchards so they can mate with females. The trick is, there is no production of offspring.

If all goes to plan there is a dramatic reduction in the number of larvae laid in fruit or vegetable crops. This can lead to local eradication of the pest, according to Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) scientists.

SIT has been successful around the world, as well as in South Australia where it has been used to combat isolated outbreaks of Mediterranean Fruit Fly. SIT offers an environmentally-friendly, sustainable and cost-effective approach to controlling this noxious pest, according to the CSIRO.

But there is one missing piece to the puzzle. No-one really knows were the Queensland Fruit Fly goes to reproduce. Having this information will increase the effectiveness of SIT.

The CSIRO has a plan to bug the bugs, to get this information. It is developing a minuscule electronic tracking device that can be affixed to the fly so its journey can be monitored.

The information gathered through the sensors will improve understanding of the ecology and behaviour of Queensland Fruit Fly. Micro-tracking or ‘swarm sensing’, can reveal this information in unprecedented detail.

It will also be used to plan how many sterile flies will be needed and where and when to release them for the best results, CSIRO said.

In Tasmania the CSIRO is already fitting tiny micro-sensors to 5000 bees, as part of a world-first research program to monitor their movements and their environment. (see: www.ecocitizenaustralia.com.au/amazing-honey-bees-project/ eco)

The big difference is that the bees are looking forward to a healthier future, the Queensland fruit Fly is not.

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