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Greater threat, greater syntony in fruit flies

Greater threat, greater syntonia

Social cues influence the response of individual fruit flies to a threat. Credit: Clara Ferreira and Marta Moita, Champalimaud Foundation

Who knew those little flies that hover around the fruit bowl are social animals? Who knew that if threatened, they would follow directions from other flies?

Does a fly in danger behave like a sheep? Does the group always affect an endangered fly in the same way, or does it depend on the level of threat?

Researchers at the Champalimaud Foundation’s Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory, in Portugal, aim to understand how social context influences the individual’s response to threats. Previously, they have shown that when fruit flies in a group are confronted with an inescapable threat, they lower their defenses compared to when they are alone. They further noted that if the other flies freeze, so will the individual; when the group gets moving again, the individual quickly follows. Being attuned to the surrounding flies seems to bring safety.

In their most recent paper, now published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, researchers at the lab reveal that when faced with a threat, a fruit fly’s reactions within a group depend on the degree of that threat. At the start of the study, opinions were divided: on the one hand, there were those who thought that with a greater threat, the fly would pay less attention to the group because it would focus its maximum attention on its perception of the threat; on the other hand, there were those who believed that, faced with a greater threat, flies would pay more attention to their environment, including the behavior of other flies.

To measure a fly’s response, in the presence of the same social cues but under different threat levels, Clara Ferreira and Marta Moita, postdoctoral researcher and principal investigator respectively, designed an ingenious experiment.

This experiment involved a group of flies that had been genetically engineered so that they could not see the stimulus used as a threat (a dark circle moving towards it) and a group of flies in which a certain type of neuron of the visual system was activated by optogenetics, a technique that combines light and genetics, able to activate and deactivate neurons. This allowed the researchers to subject the fly to social stimuli that were unaffected by the threat level.

The results were clear: For higher threat levels, flies are more responsive to group-borne social evidence. For Clara Ferreira, this makes perfect sense: “We know that the freeze response to the threat is energetically expensive, so it is paramount to limit this response to what is strictly necessary. Alignment with other animals allows the individual to react quickly. respond to the threat and be able to return to normalcy as soon as possible.”

Marta Moita concludes that “We would like to explore this idea further in the future. That is, to understand how the attunement between animals in a group allows for a more adapted response to the threat and what neuronal mechanics underlie this attunement. .”

Scientists discover a social clue to safety

More information:
Clara H. Ferreira et al, Social Security Signals Can Override Threat Level Differences, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fevo.2022.885795

Provided by Champalimaud Center for the Unknown

Quote: Greater threat, greater syntony in fruit flies (June 2022, June 24) Retrieved June 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-greater-threat-syntony-fruit-flies.html

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