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Strange little flies in the big city: exotic flower-breeding drosophilidae (Diptera) in urban Los Angeles.


Urban landscapes are commonly considered too mundane and corrupted to be biotically interesting. Recent insect surveys employing 29 Malaise traps throughout Los Angeles, California, however, have uncovered breeding populations of two unexpected species of one of the most studied and familiar groups of organisms, Drosophila "fruit" flies. Unlike most introduced species of drosophilids, which breed in fresh or decaying fruits, these are specialized flower-breeders. A common species in the survey was Drosophila (Drosophila) gentica Wheeler and Takada, previously collected only once, in El Salvador. It belongs to the flavopilosa species group, all species of which have been known until now from central Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, to Veracruz, Mexico and the Caribbean, breeding in flowers of Cestrum ("jessamine") and Sessea (Solanaceae). The Los Angeles populations are probably breeding in a native and/or introduced Cestrum; in addition, populations in San Luis Obispo County were visiting ornamental Cestrum. Drosophila gentica occurs as far north as San Francisco, where it was found breeding in Cestrum aurantiacum. D. gentica is redescribed and figured in detail for diagnostic and identification purposes. Specimens from Jamaica previously identified as D. gentica are a distinct species but are not formally described in lieu of complete male specimens. Rare in the Malaise traps was Drosophila (Sophophora) flavohirta Malloch, a common species in Australia on the blossoms of native Myrtaceae, found on introduced Eucalyptus in South Africa and both Eucalyptus and Syzygium in Madagascar; adults feed on myrtaceous pollen and nectar, larvae breed in the flowers. It is also redescribed in detail, including its unusual egg. This is the first New World report of this species; DNA sequences confirm it is a morphologically highly aberrant member of the D. melanogaster species group. This study reveals how intensive field sampling can uncover remarkable biodiversity in even the most urbanized areas.

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