Sterile males and females can synergistically suppress wild pests targeted by sterile insect technique

Y. Ikegawa, K. Ito, C. Himuro and A. Honma,  Journal of Theoretical Biology,  530. 2021.

The sterile insect technique (SIT) involves periodically releasing artificially sterilized insects to inhibit normal mating between wild insect pests, ultimately resulting in the eradication of wild pest populations. It has often been discussed whether releasing either one sex, mainly males, of sterile insects (i.e., a unisexual release) can enhance the pest-control effect of the SIT more than releasing both sexes (i.e., a bisexual release). We constructed a mathematical model to examine the contribution of sterile males and females to the pest-control effect and the synergy between them. We consider that males seek out and court females in accord with their own female searching ability and preference, and that females subsequently choose one male from among males courting them in accordance with their own preference. Using this model, we compared the pest-control effect of bisexual and unisexual release, focusing on the difference in mating systems of the targeted insects. We showed that for swarm-type mating systems (with few courtship chances with higher encounter rates), bisexual release was the most effective, irrespective of the relative female searching ability between wild and sterile males. In this case, sterile females indirectly reduce wild females mating with either male by absorbing courtship from both wild and sterile males. By contrast, bisexual release is the most effective for scramble-type mating systems (more courtship chances with lower encounter rates) only when the female searching ability of sterile males is lower than that of wild males. In this case, sterile females absorb courtship from males with higher searching abilities. Therefore, the net impact of sterile females depends on the difference in sexual performance between wild and sterile males. Because the sexual performance of sterile insects is often degraded during the process of sterilization, we suggest that bisexual release can be a compatible measure to efficiently suppress wild pest populations.

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