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Department of Zoology



I graduated with the Master's degree Biologie Cellulaire et Moléculaire du Dévelopement from the University of Orsay Paris-11. During my PhD I studied the genetics and development of sensory perception in Drosophila at the Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology (L.M.B.), Cambridge, UK. During my EMBO long-term fellowship at the University of Oxford I reported substrate-borne vibrational communication in Drosophila.


I have recently identified a novel mode of communication during Drosophila courtship that had apparently been overlooked for ~50 years. My investigations showed that flies communicate using substrate-borne vibrations during courtship, a well-conserved form of communication that had never been observed in a genetically tractable model organism. I showed that the abdomen of the male tremulates to generate substrate-borne vibrations. The female responds to these vibratory signals by remaining immobile and allowing copulation. This work re-modeled our understanding of Drosophila courtship and opened the possibility to study the neurogenetics of vibratory communication.  We now aim at clarifying the genetic and neuromuscular mechanisms underlying vibratory communication, and its evolution.



- BBC Springwatch, 28th of May 2015 (episode 4)





My research has been generously funded by:

University of Cambridge Returning Carer's scheme 

Wellcome Trust

Isaac Newton Trust Research grant and Department of Zoology 

ARUK Pilot grant 

2 GC Grindley Awards  

Hanne and Torkel Weisfogh Fund 

EMBO long-term post-doctoral fellowship 

Cambridge European Trust grant and MRC fellowship

Leonardo da Vinci European Scholarship 



Courtship in Drosophila melanogaster consists of a series of stereotyped actions by the male to first assess the female's suitability and then elicit her acceptance of copulation, which is signaled by her ceasing to walk. The male and female communicate via vision, air-borne sounds and by pheromones, but it remained unclear what cues trigger female immobility. I described a further component of Drosophila courtship behaviour that has, surprisingly, been overlooked. I showed by video recordings and laser vibrometry that the abdomen of the male vibrates rhythmically ("quivers") to generate substrate-borne vibrations that have a repetition rate of about 6 pulses per second. I obtained evidence that the female stops walking and becomes receptive mainly because she senses these vibrations and not, as had previously been suggested, as a response to the air-borne song produced when the male extends and flutters one wing. The neural circuits expressing the sex determination genes fruitless and doublesex are required for the quivering behaviour. Moreover, these abdominal quivers and associated vibrations, as well as their presumed effect on female receptivity, are conserved in other Drosophila species. Substrate-borne vibrations are an ancient form of communication that is widespread in invertebrates and vertebrates. We are now investigating the neuromuscular circuitry responsible for the generation of these substrate-borne signals and the sensory systems needed for their reception.

Present and past researchers on the project:

Antoine Peigné, Master student 

Eleanor McKelvey, research assistant

Rebecca Richmond-Smith, student

Eugenie (Charley) Yen, student

Rory Fairhead, student

Laura Kruszewski, student


Monica Vega-Hernández, postdoctoral fellow

Izarne Medina, research assistant

Paige Walker, student

Frederick Benham-Crosswell, student

Louisa Sober, student

Violeta Barquin Pancorbo, summer student

Phoebe Tate, summer student


Key publications: 

Hernández, M.V. & Fabre, C.C. Triggers of the postural display of courtship in Drosophila persimilis flies. J Insect Behav 2017, 30 (5):582-594.

Hernández, M.V. & Fabre, C.C. The Elaborate Postural Display of Courting Drosophila persimilis Flies Produces Substrate-Borne Vibratory Signals. J Insect Behav 2016, 29 (5): 578-590.

Medina I., Casal J., Fabre C.C. Do circadian genes and ambient temperature affect substrate-borne signaling during Drosophila courtship? Biology Open 2015,  4: 1549-1557.

Fabre C.C., Hedwig B., Conduit G., Lawrence P.A., Goodwin S.G., Casal J. Substrate-borne vibratory communication during courtship in Drosophila melanogaster. Current Biology 2012, 22 (22): 2180-2185.

Krzemien J., Fabre C.C., Casal J., Lawrence P.A. The muscle pattern of the Drosophila abdomen depends on a subdivision of the anterior compartment of each segment. Development 2012, 139(1): 75-83.

Fabre C.C., Casal J., Lawrence P.A. Mechanosensilla in the adult abdomen of Drosophila: engrailed and slit help to corral the peripheral sensory axons into segmental bundles. Development 2010, 137(17): 2885-94.

Fabre C.C., Casal J., Lawrence P.A. The abdomen of Drosophila: does planar cell polarity orient the neurons of mechanosensory bristles? Neural Development 2008, 3:12.


Other publications: 

Fabre C.C. Shake it! Body language in animals. BlueSci 2014, 30: 10-11.

Rezával C., Fabre C.C., Goodwin S.F. Invertebrate neuroethology: food play and sex. Current biology 2011, 21(23): 960-962.

Pulver S.R., Cognigni P., Denholm B., Fabre C.C., Gu W.X., Linneweber G., Prieto-Godino L., Urbancic V., Zwart M., Miguel-Aliaga I. Why flies? Inexpensive public engagement exercises to explain the value of basic biomedical research on Drosophila melanogaster. Advances in Physiology Education 2011, 35(4): 384-92.

Contact Details

Accepting applications for PhD students.


Person keywords: 
Insect Ecology
Image Visualisation
quantitative behaviour
Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
Drosophila genetics