Modelling the effects of odours and spying parasitoids on fruit fly population dynamics

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


The study of the role of chemical information in species interactions has been mostly restricted to studies at the level of individual organisms. The central question in this thesis is how intraspecific chemical information conveyance and exploitation thereof by a natural enemy affects the spatial population dynamics of a species. To answer this question, I developed a spatio-temporal model where both host and parasitoid can respond to infochemicals. Our model system consists of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, and its natural enemy, the larval parasitoid Leptopilina heterotoma. D. melanogaster uses its aggregation pheromone in combination with odours from fermenting fruits to localise suitable resources for reproduction. L. heterotoma uses these same odours to localise its host. For D. melanogaster, aggregation on a resource can be beneficial when a population is small and has to overcome negative effects associated with low population densities. Such negative effects, known as the Allee effect, can for instance be caused by difficulties in resource exploitation or in finding a mate. Aggregation also involves costs. Individuals within an aggregation frequently experience more severe competition for food, space and mates than they would experience when being on their own. Furthermore, I investigated which behavioural decisions enhance the ability to find - and distinguish between – odour sources that differ in their suitability for reproduction.

On the individual level, this research showed that, like real fruit flies, the modelled fruit flies need to have a preference for the presence of both aggregation pheromone and food odours, over food odours alone, to be able to distinguish between the two types of odour sources. The results show that this stronger preference does not have to be innate. As long as fruit flies are able to remember and adjust their current preference based on the odour concentrations that they perceive, more fruit flies find the more attractive odour source.

On a population level, this thesis shows that the use of chemical information by D. melanogaster affects its population dynamics. In the absence of its natural enemy, and when the Drosphila population is small, the use of food odours and aggregation pheromone has a positive effect on population growth and enhances the fruit fly’s colonization ability. When the population becomes larger, however, the negative effects of larval competition are stronger than the positive effects of reduced mortality due to the Allee effect. The use of chemical information was crucial to colonize an area from the boundaries. A fruit fly population that was unable to use chemical information could not colonize the area and went extinct. When parasitoids can use chemical information, parasitism rates are higher, resulting in a slower population growth of their host. No difference was recorded in fruit fly population size and in larval mortality due to parasitism, when parasitoids exploited the aggregation pheromone of the fruit fly adults as compared with the simulations where the parasitoids could only respond to chemicals emitted by the host habitat. In contrast, the use of chemical information by the host enhanced its population growth and enabled it to survive, even at higher parasitoid densities. This research showed that mortality when the population was small had a greater impact on population size than mortality due to competition or parsitism. Food patches are not always abundant in nature. Thus, the reproductive success of fruit flies is mainly determined by their opportunities of producing clutches (i.e. locating patches) rather than by preventing over-aggregation or parasitism. As a result, the use of chemical information has a net positive effect on fruit fly population dynamics, despite the fact that L. heterotoma is able to exploit it.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Dicke, Marcel, Promotor
  • Hemerik, Lia, Co-promotor
  • de Gee, Maarten, Co-promotor
Award date14 Mar 2012
Place of PublicationS.l.
Print ISBNs9789461732057
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2012


  • drosophila melanogaster
  • parasitoids
  • leptopilina heterotoma
  • aggregation pheromones
  • odours
  • population dynamics
  • simulation models


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