Temporal and spatial variation in sex-specific abundance of the avian vampire fly (Philornis downsi)

Lauren K. Common, Petra Sumasgutner, Shane C. Sumasgutner, Diane Colombelli-Négrel, Rachael Y. Dudaniec, Sonia Kleindorfer

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Understanding the range and behaviour of an invasive species is critical to identify key habitat areas to focus control efforts. Patterns of range use in parasites can differ temporally, across life stages and between sexes. The invasive avian vampire fly, Philornis downsi, spends the larval stage of its life within bird nests, feeding on developing nestlings and causing high levels of mortality and deformation. However, little is known of the ecology and behaviour of the non-parasitic adult fly life stage. Here, we document sex-specific temporal and spatial patterns of abundance of adult avian vampire flies during a single Darwin’s finch breeding season. We analyse fly trapping data collected across 7 weeks in the highlands (N = 405 flies) and lowlands (N = 12 flies) of Floreana Island (Galápagos). Lowland catches occurred later in the season, which supports the hypothesis that flies may migrate from the food-rich highlands to the food-poor lowlands once host breeding has commenced. Fly abundance was not correlated with host nesting density (oviposition site) but was correlated with distance to the agricultural zone (feeding site). We consistently caught more males closer to the agricultural zone and more females further away from the agricultural zone. These sex differences suggest that males may be defending or lekking at feeding sites in the agricultural zone for mating. This temporal and sex-specific habitat use of the avian vampire fly is relevant for developing targeted control methods and provides insight into the behavioural ecology of this introduced parasite on the Galápagos Archipelago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-74
Number of pages12
JournalParasitology Research
Issue number1
Early online date20 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022


  • Ectoparasite
  • Galápagos Islands
  • Invasive species
  • Philornis
  • Range use


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