Proceedings of an FAO/IAEA coordinated research project on improving sterile male performance in fruit fly sterile insect technique (SIT) programmes

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This special issue of the Journal of Applied Entomology contains 28 original papers that have resulted from a 6-year coordinated research project (CRP) sponsored by the Joint FAO/IAEA Programme of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, Vienna, Austria. The overall aim of the CRP was to assist FAO and IAEA Member States in achieving sustainable fruit and vegetable production and to overcome phytosanitary barriers to international trade through the integrated area-wide application of the sterile insect technique (SIT) against major fruit flies of economic importance.

About 70 species of tephritid fruit flies (Diptera: Tephritidae) are key pests of fruits and vegetables and among the worst agricultural pests worldwide. The economic damage to established and emerging horticultural industries is very high, both due to direct crop losses and suppression costs and indirectly due to trade barriers imposed by countries to prevent the introduction of exotic tephritid fruit flies with imported fresh fruit and vegetables. Unless systematic suppression measures are implemented, infestation rates can reach up to 100%, depending on the tephritid fruit fly species, host fruit and climatic conditions. This scenario, combined with the removal of key insecticides from the market, their replacement with much more costly products and the increasing requirement from importing countries for low insecticide residues, makes integration of the environment-friendly SIT an appealing option for the control of fruit fly pests.

Research to improve the SIT has largely focused on the development and adaptation of mass-rearing and sterilization processes for different pest species. Nevertheless, the sterile insects also have to be shipped as pupae to fly emergence and release facilities where they are maintained until their release in the target areas. A consultants' meeting convened in Vienna in October 2003 confirmed that at these facilities, many of the processes could be changed and improved to enhance the quality and performance of sterile males, in particular their sexual competitiveness. The meeting concluded that research exploring the use of nutritional, hormonal and semiochemical supplements and ways to better manage the physical conditions and handling of emerged fruit flies in fly emergence and release facilities would hold great potential to improve the cost-effectiveness of the SIT against these pests.

In response, the CRP entitled ‘Improving Sterile Male Performance in Fruit Fly Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) Programmes’ was initiated in 2004 and completed in 2009. It included researchers from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Croatia, France, Greece, Israel, Mauritius, Mexico, the Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, the UK and the USA. During this 6-year period, Guatemala, Brazil, Spain and Mauritius each hosted a research coordination meeting under the CRP.

Many of the research results emanating from this productive CRP have already been transferred to operational emergence and release facilities, thereby reducing the cost and increasing the effectiveness of ongoing programmes integrating the SIT against several Anastrepha, Bactrocera and Ceratitis pest species.

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