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New research on invasive ‘Philornis downsi’ fly could help Galapagos land birds

August 4, 2016

Galapagos finchResearchers from the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) are making progress in discovering the lifecycle of the invasive avian fly Philornis downsi, the larvae of which feeds on the blood of land bird nestlings and is threatening critically endangered birds in Galapagos like the mangrove finch.

Paola Lahuatte and her colleagues at CDF are hoping to use the “sterile insect technique” in which infertile male flies are bred and released to disrupt the reproduction cycle of P. downsi — effectively reducing the population of flies each generation. In order for this technique to be successful, however, scientists must be able to raise larvae in the lab; a task which has been surprisingly difficult until now.

Lahuatte’s team found that by feeding the fly larvae chicken blood from a local farm, they yielded a success rate of 10% — far greater than previous attempts using different dietary approaches. According to the publication, “Additional studies are required to demonstrate whether fly health extends to reproductive health and fecundity (fertility).” View the journal publication here, and watch this space for further updates on this important research, which is funded in part by Galapagos Conservancy.

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