How aggressive interactions with biomimetic agents optimize reproductive performances in mass-reared males of the Mediterranean fruit fly

D. Romano, G. Benelli and C. Stefanini,  Biological Cybernetics,  2023.

Mass-rearing procedures of insect species, often used in biological control and Sterile Insect Technique, can reduce the insects competitiveness in foraging, dispersal, and mating. The evocation of certain behaviours responsible to induce specific neuroendocrine products may restore or improve the competitiveness of mass-reared individuals. Herein, we used a mass-reared strain of Ceratitis capitata as model organism. C. capitata is a polyphagous pest exhibiting territorial displays that are closely related to its reproductive performance. We tested if the behaviour of C. capitata males could be altered by hybrid aggressive interactions with a conspecific-mimicking robotic fly, leading to more competitive individuals in subsequent mating events. Aggressive interactions with the robotic fly had a notable effect on subsequent courtship and mating sequences of males that performed longer courtship displays compared to naïve individuals. Furthermore, previous interactions with the robotic fly produced a higher mating success of males. Reproductive performances of C. capitata males may be improved by specific octopaminergic neurones activated during previous aggressive interactions with the robotic fly. This study adds fundamental knowledge on the potential role of specific neuro-behavioural processes in the ecology of tephritid species and paves the way to innovative biotechnological control methods based on robotics and bionics.

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