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The long-distance flight behavior of Drosophila supports an agent-based model for wind-assisted dispersal in insects

Leitch, Katherine J. and Ponce, Francesca V. and Dickson, William B. and van Breugel, Floris and Dickinson, Michael H. (2021) The long-distance flight behavior of Drosophila supports an agent-based model for wind-assisted dispersal in insects. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 118 (17). Art. No. e2013342118. ISSN 0027-8424. PMCID PMC8092610. doi:10.1073/pnas.2013342118.

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Despite the ecological importance of long-distance dispersal in insects, its mechanistic basis is poorly understood in genetic model species, in which advanced molecular tools are readily available. One critical question is how insects interact with the wind to detect attractive odor plumes and increase their travel distance as they disperse. To gain insight into dispersal, we conducted release-and-recapture experiments in the Mojave Desert using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. We deployed chemically baited traps in a 1 km radius ring around the release site, equipped with cameras that captured the arrival times of flies as they landed. In each experiment, we released between 30,000 and 200,000 flies. By repeating the experiments under a variety of conditions, we were able to quantify the influence of wind on flies’ dispersal behavior. Our results confirm that even tiny fruit flies could disperse ∼12 km in a single flight in still air and might travel many times that distance in a moderate wind. The dispersal behavior of the flies is well explained by an agent-based model in which animals maintain a fixed body orientation relative to celestial cues, actively regulate groundspeed along their body axis, and allow the wind to advect them sideways. The model accounts for the observation that flies actively fan out in all directions in still air but are increasingly advected downwind as winds intensify. Our results suggest that dispersing insects may strike a balance between the need to cover large distances while still maintaining the chance of intercepting odor plumes from upwind sources.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription Information Paper ItemCode CentralArticle
Leitch, Katherine J.0000-0002-4295-1061
Dickson, William B.0000-0003-2687-3793
van Breugel, Floris0000-0001-6538-7179
Dickinson, Michael H.0000-0002-8587-9936
Alternate Title:The long-distance flight behavior of Drosophila suggests a general model for wind-assisted dispersal in insects
Additional Information:© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. Published under the PNAS license. Edited by Alan Hastings, University of California, Davis, CA, and approved March 1, 2021 (received for review June 30, 2020). We thank Massimo Vergassola (University of California San Diego), who was principal investigator on a grant from the Simons Foundation (71582123) that funded the initial stages of this project. This work was also supported by the NSF (IOS 1547918). Román Corfas, Ainul Huda, Alysha de Souza, Johan Melis, and Aubrey Goldsmith participated in data collection. Annie Rak contributed to preliminary modeling efforts. Bob Verish provided guidance for safely accessing Coyote Lake, and the Barstow Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management permitted our use of this field site. Data Availability: All data and analysis code used in this paper are available for download at Author contributions: K.J.L., F.v.B., and M.H.D. designed research; K.J.L., F.V.P., F.v.B., and M.H.D. performed research; W.B.D. contributed new reagents/analytic tools; K.J.L. and W.B.D. analyzed data; and K.J.L., W.B.D., and M.H.D. wrote the paper. The authors declare no competing interest. This article is a PNAS Direct Submission. This article contains supporting information online at
Group:Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute for Neuroscience
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Simons Foundation71582123
Subject Keywords:movement ecology; dispersal; Drosophila; navigation
Issue or Number:17
PubMed Central ID:PMC8092610
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20200612-145242003
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:The long-distance flight behavior of Drosophila supports an agent-based model for wind-assisted dispersal in insects. Katherine J. Leitch, Francesca V. Ponce, William B. Dickson, Floris van Breugel, Michael H. Dickinson Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2021, 118 (17) e2013342118; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2013342118
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:103891
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:12 Jun 2020 22:05
Last Modified:08 Feb 2022 23:58

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