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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 signalled 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 tremulates to generate substrate-borne vibrations (also called seismic vibrations) that have a repetition rate of about 6 pulses per second. I obtained evidence that the female stops walking and becomes receptive when she senses these vibrations in the ground. The neural circuits expressing the sex determination genes fruitless and doublesex are required for the tremulatory behaviour. Moreover, these abdominal tremulations 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.

Current research topics include:

We are now investigating, in Drosophila, the genetics and the neuromuscular circuitry responsible for the generation of the substrate-borne signals and the sensory systems needed for their reception. We are also interested in the evolution of these mechanisms and we are looking at this mode of communication in different Drosophila species. The main questions we are addressing are: What are the neuro-muscular networks generating abdominal tremulations in males? How is the female receiving the vibrations (what are the vibration-receptors)? How is her response (she remains stationary) generated by the Central Nervous System? How does substrate-borne communication vary between different Drosophila species?

Key Publications

McKelvey, E. G. & Fabre C. C. (2019). Recent neurogenetic findings in insect courtship behaviour. Current Opinion in Insect Science 36:1-8

Vega Hernández, M., Fabre C. C. (2017). Triggers of the Postural Display of Courtship in Drosophila persimilis Flies. Journal of Insect Behavior 30(5): 582-594

Vega Hernández, M., Fabre C. C. (2016). The elaborate postural display of courting Drosophila persimilis flies produces substrate-borne signals. Journal of Insect Behavior 29(5): 578-590

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

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

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


Contact Details

Group Leader

Dr Caroline Fabre

Department of Zoology
University of Cambridge
Downing St

01223  (3)36622

Group Members