1.In nature, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is attracted to fermenting fruit. Micro-organisms like Saccharomyces yeasts growing on fruit occupy a commonly overlooked trophic level between fruit and insects. Although the dietary quality of yeast is well established for D. melanogaster, the individual contribution of fruit and yeast on host finding and reproductive success has not been established.
2.Here, we show that baker's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae on its own is sufficient for fruit fly attraction, oviposition and larval development. In contrast, attraction and oviposition were significantly lower if non-fermented grape juice or growth media were used, and yeast-free grapes did not support larval development either.
3.Despite a strong preference for fermented substrates, moderate attraction to and oviposition on unfermented fruit might be adaptive in view of the fly's capacity to vector yeast.
4.Signals emitted by fruit were only of secondary importance because fermenting yeast without fruit induced the same fly behaviour as yeast fermenting on fruit. We identified a synthetic mimic of yeast odour, comprising ethanol, acetic acid, acetoin, 2-phenyl ethanol and 3-methyl-1-butanol, which was as attractive for the fly as fermenting grape juice or fermenting yeast minimal medium.
5.Yeast odours represent the critical signal to establish the fly–fruit–yeast relationship. The traditional plant–herbivore niche concept needs to be updated, to accommodate for the role of micro-organisms in insect–plant interactions.