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Flying the Fly: Long-range Flight Behavior of Drosophila melanogaster to Attractive Odors

Abstract

The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster Meigen (Diptera: Drosophilidae), is a model for how animals sense, discriminate, and respond to chemical signals. However, with D. melanogaster our knowledge of the behavioral activity of olfactory receptor ligands has relied largely on close-range attraction, rather than on long-range orientation behavior. We developed a flight assay to relate chemosensory perception to behavior. Headspace volatiles from vinegar attracted 62% of assayed flies during a 15-min experimental period. Flies responded irrespective of age, sex, and mating state, provided they had been starved. To identify behaviorally relevant chemicals from vinegar, we compared the responses to vinegar and synthetic chemicals. Stimuli were applied by a piezoelectric sprayer at known and constant release rates. Re-vaporized methanol extracts of Super Q-trapped vinegar volatiles attracted as many flies as vinegar. The main volatile component of vinegar, acetic acid, elicited significant attraction as a single compound. Two other vinegar volatiles, 2-phenyl ethanol and acetoin, produced a synergistic effect when added to acetic acid. Geosmin, a microbiological off-flavor, diminished attraction to vinegar. This wind tunnel assay based on a conspicuous and unambiguous behavioral response provides the necessary resolution for the investigation of physiologically and ecologically relevant odors and will become an essential tool for the functional analysis of the D. melanogaster olfactory system.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Linnaeus initiative “Insect Chemical Ecology, Ethology and Evolution” IC-E3 (Formas, SLU). We thank Teun Dekker and Mattias Larsson for helpful comments and discussions. Jörgen Lantz constructed the wind tunnel.

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Correspondence to Paul G. Becher.

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Becher, P.G., Bengtsson, M., Hansson, B.S. et al. Flying the Fly: Long-range Flight Behavior of Drosophila melanogaster to Attractive Odors. J Chem Ecol 36, 599–607 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-010-9794-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10886-010-9794-2

Key Words

  • Acetic acid
  • Drosophila melanogaster
  • Flight behavior
  • Fruit fly
  • Geosmin
  • Long-range attraction
  • Olfactory system
  • Vinegar fly
  • Wind tunnel