PBCRC Fruit Fly Research

PBCRC Fruit Fly Research

Fruit fly research

Fruit flies are a major pest of fruit and vegetables in Australia, not only because they damage crops but also because of their economic impact on trade. Approximately 75 per cent of Australian horticulture exports are susceptible to fruit flies. The average annual value of fruit fly susceptible Australian horticultural crops is $4.8 billion and the average value of Australian fresh fruit exports from fruit fly susceptible crops is nearly $500 million (National Fruit Fly Strategy Implementation Committee, 2010).

Fruit fly causes losses of up to $159 million a year in Australian fruit and vegetable crops alone. Ongoing research and development is critical to managing fruit fly in Australia, reducing production costs to growers and increasing market access opportunities.

The two major fruit fly pests in Australia are Mediterranean fruit fly which inhabits the southern growing regions of Western Australia, and Queensland fruit fly which is found in parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and the eastern corner of Victoria. New Zealand is currently free of fruit fly and horticultural industries there are developing fruit fly preparedness plans should fruit fly establish.

National Fruit Fly RD&E Plan

With the purpose of supporting the sustainability, profitability and market access of fruit fly affected industries, the Plant Biosecurity CRC developed and launched a long-term National Fruit Fly Research, Development & Extension (RD&E) Plan in 2015. The plan provides a foundation for long-term fruit fly research in Australia.

The RD&E plan sits under both the National Fruit Fly Strategy and the National Plant Biosecurity RD&E Strategy and operates under advice from the National Fruit Fly Council and the National Plant Biosecurity RD&E Strategy Implementation Committee.

The National Fruit Fly RD&E Plan aims to:

  1. Identify Australia’s current capability in fruit fly research, development and extension.

  2. Identify the outcomes required by growers, industries, regulators and biosecurity managers which are needed to ensure that fruit fly is not an impediment to sustainable production and market access.

  3. Identify Australia’s short, medium and long-term strategic RD&E fruit fly needs and priorities to meet those outcomes and the aims of the National Fruit Fly Strategy.

  4. Identify potential funding sources to support future RD&E activities.

  5. Promote and facilitate collaboration in fruit fly RD&E at the community, regional, national and international level.

Fruit fly research

The Plant Biosecurity CRC, and its earlier iteration the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity, have been undertaking fruit fly research for over a decade, focusing on cutting edge research in fruit fly ecology, control and management techniques, post-harvest treatments and community engagement.

In 2015 the CRC ran regional workshops in SA, Vic, NSW, WA, NT and QLD to identify and collate regional strategic priorities in regard to the National Fruit Fly RD&E Plan. The issues identified at the workshops will be used by the National Fruit Fly Council as part of its larger fruit fly prioritisation process. An output of these workshops was the National Fruit Fly RD&E Prioritisation Workshop Report.


Plant Biosecurity CRC fruit fly research (2012-2018):

1. Next generation national fruit fly diagnostics and handbook

To assist Australia in maintaining market access for a large range of horticultural produce, this project is creating a new suite of integrated diagnostic tools for implementation by Australia’s National Plant Biosecurity Diagnostics Network. Focusing on Bactrocera, the team will revise diagnostic tools for all high-priority fruit fly species in the National Fruit Fly Strategy and their non-pest relatives including offshore and Australian endemics. This project is pioneering genome-led marker discovery to develop a suite of tailor-made molecular diagnostic tools that will supersede current technologies.

2. Molecular basis of response to (sub)lethal stresses

The aim of this research is to provide the scientific basis of stress response in fruit fly to support end-point treatment applications for international market access.

3. Continuing development of a female Q-fly lure (building on Creating a novel lure and kill device for Queensland fruit fly

Australian fruit growers regard the absence of an effective lure and kill device for female Queensland fruit fly as a "gaping hole in the toolbox for future control" of this destructive insect pest. Previous investments have made significant progress towards creating a novel lure and kill device for female Q-fly, delivering proof-of-concept research into trap design and fundamental research into attractant formulation. The next phase is focused on further development of the attractant and comprehensive field evaluation of the lure-and-kill device.

4. Desk audit of the Fruit Fly Body of Knowledge – identifying the gaps and strengths of past fruit fly research

The project is auditing the ‘Fruit Fly Body of Knowledge’, housed with Plant Health Australia, to identify research that can be used as evidence to support market access.

5. Improved post-harvest market access treatments for horticultural commodities

This project conducted a comprehensive literature review to review published and unpublished information relating to the development of quarantine phytosanitary treatments. The project team will now investigate selected end-point combination treatments most likely to deliver the required efficacy, while maintaining product quality and developing new effective post-harvest disinfestation protocols targeting both internal pests (e.g. fruit flies and codling moth) and surface pests (e.g. mealybugs and mites) to safeguard international trade for Australian and New Zealand horticulture.

6. Probiotics for enhancing sterile fruit fly sterile insect technique

Sterile insect technique (SIT) comprises the mass release of sterile male flies into wild populations. The success of SIT relies upon the sterile males mating with wild females, which then fail to produce offspring, resulting in a reduction in the pest population. This project aims to improve sterile male Queensland fruit fly performance by manipulating microbes in the fruit fly gut that have a positive effect on their fitness. This will then allow increases in the efficiency and effectiveness of SIT, while minimising costs for sterile fly production.

7. Chemical host location in fruit flies

This PhD research project is looking at how interactions between different chemical groups within fruit odour influence recognition and response to odours in QFly (B. tryoni). This project will help to better understand how odour structure influences not only attraction but also deterrence for QFly. This knowledge will help to ensure that any lures or traps are as effective as possible in attracting target pests and that they don’t contain components that are inhibiting attraction.

8. Area-wide fruit fly management programs in Australian horticultural industries

Industry-driven fruit fly area-wide management (FF AWM) requires collaboration between growers, technical experts, technology providers, town communities and local government. The success of these collaboration efforts is highly dependent on social and institutional factors. This project will develop understanding about the social and institutional aspects of FF AWM programs and how these can be strengthened in order to achieve lower program costs and increase program feasibility and longevity.

9. Engaging communities in biosecurity: Evaluating the role of science communication and incentives in the area-wide management of fruit fly in Western Australia

This study is examining the factors that facilitate the adoption of biosecurity measures for Mediterranean fruit fly control in Western Australia, through a whole of community engagement approach that includes industry, government and the public.

10. High density mass-trapping of Queensland fruit fly

This research project assessed three mass trapping and kill techniques for fruit fly control and eradication in small scale trials under a range of environments.

11. Pre-harvest fruit fly and Bactrocera dorsalis

This project supported two postgraduate students and research undertaken in the previous CRC.

CRC for National Plant Biosecurity research (2005-2012):

1. Resolving the Bactrocera dorsalis complex

Flies belonging to the Oriental Fruit Fly species complex, Bactrocera dorsalis, include a number of serious horticultural pest species which are difficult to identify. This project completed a comprehensive biological, morphological and molecular study of the complex, to confirm species boundaries and to develop new diagnostic methods for their detection.

2. Female lures: fruit fly trapping

This project developed female fruit fly lures to improve pest surveillance technology. These will aid in the detection and control of fruit fly species not attracted to the currently deployed male lures and will enhance surveillance capability for exotic fruit fly species. Two prototype lures were developed: a gel lure and a dry lure. 

3. Fruit fly area freedom

This project developed a dynamic, strategic trapping system which provides a similar or higher level of confidence as current static, passive grid systems in areas free from Queensland and Mediterranean fruit flies. It provides a more cost-effective and widespread fruit fly trapping network and more accurate information about fruit fly populations in remote areas of Australia.

4. Pre-harvest fruit fly

Reviewed the published literature on the ecology and biology of Bactrocera tryoni, and prioritised gaps of knowledge requiring further research. Additionally, carried out an investigation of Queensland fruit fly movement at different scales to determine where flies causing infestations are coming from and developed strategies for better deployment of male annihilation technique blocks and protein baits.


Podcast: Biosecurity built on science with Dr Mark Schutze

Mark discusses how fruit fly threatens global agriculture and why being able to identify different species is so important.