Air pollution is affecting the love lives of fruit flies, according to a study published in the journal Nature Communications. Male common fruit flies have trouble recognizing their female conspecifics after inhaling toxic fumes, leading them to try to mate with another male. The research suggests that ozone pollution may affect the chemical composition of pheromones that fruit flies use to detect and attract mates. Rising levels of air pollutants from automobiles, power plants, and industrial boilers around the world could prevent the common fruit fly from reproducing, causing a drastic decline in the insect species.
A team of chemical ecologists placed 50 male flies in a tube and exposed them to 100 parts per billion (ppb) of ozone for two hours. After two hours, the fruit flies showed reduced amounts of a pheromone called cis-vaccenyl acetate (cVA) in compounds involved in reproductive behavior. Ozone appears to have modified the chemical structure of the pheromones, resulting in the production of liquid heptanal in the flies, a product that arises after the breakdown of cVA.
The loss of the chemical aphrodisiac made ozone-exposed males a less desirable choice for females, which took almost twice as long to choose among the corrupted bachelors as among the clean ones. In addition, ozone pollution not only hinders the ability of males to attract the attention of females but also affects their ability to identify other individuals. Male fruit flies exposed to ozone jumped on each other instead of attempting to mate with females.
The study demonstrates how detrimental air pollution can be to insect communication, with possible ecological ramifications such as reduced biodiversity. It is important to keep in mind that fruit flies play a major role in the global ecosystem as nature’s cleanup crew, removing fruit and vegetable debris. Quick action is needed to reduce air pollution levels and protect fruit flies and other insects from the harmful effects of pollution.