A project undertaken at The University of Melbourne, and supervised by A/Prof Charles Robin.
The alarming decline in insect biodiversity over recent decades has recently received some, but not enough, attention. There are many putative causes of these declines but insecticide use is a commonly cited one. We know that many pest insects evolve resistance to insecticides and we also know that some non-pest species do as well because they have recently acquired mutations in genes that encode the target of insecticides.
For example, the vinegar fly Drosophila melanogaster, which is not a pest but is used as a study organism in schools and universities across the world has in the last 80 years acquired mutations in the acetylcholine esterase gene that makes it resistant to insecticides used by farmers and found in household sprays.
Our research asks how many insect species show signs that they have adapted to synthetic insecticides? We are collecting insects from horticultural areas in Australia and sequencing genes that are often associated with insecticide resistance in pest species. We will then ascertain whether such mutations have arisen recently and whether these signals of adaptation could be used to monitor the impact of insecticides on insect biodiversity.