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Fruit flies represent today a major worldwide threat for crops, and a challenge for agronomy, causing major economic losses across the planet every year. One of them, Drosophila suzukii, (i.e. the spotted-wing drosophila), has become a new economic pest in the last 10 years in Europe, Asia and North America, attacking cherries, berries and grapes, and rendering them unmarketable. This species is primarily controlled by the use of pesticides, but their efficacy remains limited, and their use have a very negative impact on the environment, as well as on fruit quality and on their exportability. Thus, alternative pest management methods are needed.
One of these alternatives is the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). It consists in field releases of large numbers of sterilised mass- reared males of a targeted pest species, to produce a ‘birth control effect’ in wild populations. SIT is environmentally-friendly, as it is species-specific and requires neither the introduction of non-native species nor the use of any pesticides. But one its main limitations is the low mating success that sterile males experience with wild females, which strongly affects their action in the field, and thus the cost-effectiveness of this pest management method.
A solution to this problem would be to boost the field competitiveness of sterile males. For that purpose, I will characterise the socio-sexual behaviour of D. suzukii under semi-natural conditions to identify the key traits behind male mating success. Then, I will assess the genetic characteristics of male enhanced sexual performance, to allow the transferability of the corresponding phenotypic characteristics to D. suzukii strains.Together, this would allow to enrich mass-reared populations with male genotypes that are highly competitive in the field. Ultimately, this project aims to provide a simple solution to improve the cost-effectiveness of SIT, and thus promote its use as an attractive alternative to pesticides.
I am an evolutionary biologist investigating the evolution of sexual behavior. I am particularly interested in understanding what makes a mate more attractive and competitive than its rivals, and how this changes between lab conditions and the field.
I started my career studying the effects of gene-environment interactions on the developmental of Drosophila wing shape, at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. I then did my PhD at the University of Sheffield, as part of the Marie Curie Initial Training Network ’SPECIATION’, where I studied the coevolution of a mating signal and its associated female preference in Drosophila populations, and its consequences on sexual isolation and the emergence of new species. During my first postdoctoral project at the University of Sussex, I investigated whether the sex-specific responses to selection we typically observe in the laboratory are representative to what happens in the wild.
I combined these skills into my AgreenSkills project, to study the sexual behaviour of Drosophila suzukii, an invasive pest species that causes important economic damages to small soft fruit crops (i.e. cherry, raspberry, strawberry, grape), in order to improve the performance of D. suzukii sterile males used in Sterile Insect Technique programmes.
Allan Debelle, Alexandre Courtiol, Michael G. Ritchie and Rhonda R. Snook., 2017. Mate choice intensifies motor signalling in Drosophila. Animal Behaviour, 133:169-187.
Allan Debelle, Michael G. Ritchie, and Rhonda R. Snook., 2016. Sexual selection and assortative mating: an experimental test. J. Evol. Biol., 29: 1307-1316.
Allan Debelle, Michael G Ritchie, and Rhonda R Snook, 2014. Evolution of divergent female mating preference in response to experimental sexual selection. Evolution 68(9):2524-2533.
Roger Butlin, Allan Debelle, et al. (ITN Marie Curie Speciation), 2012. What do we need to know about speciation? Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 27(1):27-39.
Vincent Debat, Allan Debelle, and Ian Dworkin, 2009. Plasticity, canalization, and developmental stability of the Drosophila wing: joint effects of mutations and developmental temperature. Evolution, 63(11):2864-76