The Journal of experimental biology

The relative roles of vision and chemosensation in mate recognition of Drosophila melanogaster.

PMID 24902744


Animals rely on sensory cues to classify objects in their environment and respond appropriately. However, the spatial structure of those sensory cues can greatly impact when, where and how they are perceived. In this study, we examined the relative roles of visual and chemosensory cues in the mate recognition behavior of fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) using a robotic fly dummy that was programmed to interact with individual males. By pairing male flies with dummies of various shapes, sizes and speeds, or coated with different pheromones, we determined that visual and chemical cues play specific roles at different points in the courtship sequence. Vision is essential for determining whether to approach a moving object and initiate courtship, and males were more likely to begin chasing objects with the same approximate dimensions as another fly. However, whereas males were less likely to begin chasing larger dummies, once started, they would continue chasing for a similar length of time regardless of the dummy's shape. The presence of female pheromones on the moving dummy did not affect the probability that males would initiate a chase, but did influence how long they would continue chasing. Male pheromone both inhibits chase initiation and shortens chase duration. Collectively, these results suggest that male D. melanogaster use different sensory cues to progress through the courtship sequence: visual cues are dominant when deciding whether to approach an object whereas chemosensory cues determine how long the male pursues its target.

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