The Trojan female technique: a novel, effective and humane approach for pest population control

N. J. Gemmell, A. Jalilzadeh, R. K. Didham, T. Soboleva and D. M. Tompkins,  Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,  280:20132549. 2013.

Humankind’s ongoing battle with pest species spans millennia. Pests cause or carry disease, damage or consume food crops and other resources, and drive global environmental change. Conventional approaches to pest management usually involve lethal control, but such approaches are costly, of varying efficiency and often have ethical issues. Thus, pest management via control of reproductive output is increasingly considered an optimal solution. One of the most successful such ‘fertility control’ strategies developed to date is the sterile male technique (SMT), in which large numbers of sterile males are released into a population each generation. However, this approach is time-consuming, labour-intensive and costly. We use mathematical models to test a new twist on the SMT, using maternally inherited mitochondrial (mtDNA) mutations that affect male, but not female reproductive fitness. ‘Trojan females’ carrying suchmutations, and their female descendants, produce ‘sterile-male’-equivalents under natural conditions over multiple generations. We find that the Trojan female technique (TFT) has the potential to be a novel humane approach for pest control. Single large releases and relatively few small repeat releases of Trojan females both provided effective and persistent control within relatively few generations. Although greatest efficacy was predicted for high-turnover species, the additive nature of multiple releases made the TFT applicable to the full range of life histories modelled. The extensive conservation of mtDNA among eukaryotes suggests this approach could have broad utility for pest control.