Potential trade-offs between reproduction and migratory flight in Spodoptera frugiperda.
Since 2016, the fall armyworm (FAW, Spodoptera frugiperda) has invaded large parts of Africa and Asia, impacting millions of hectares of maize crops and thereby posing a major threat to food security. The rapid geographic spread and outbreak dynamics of S. frugiperda are tied to its unique dispersal ability and long-distance migration capability. Yet, up till present, limited research has been conducted on the physiological determinants of S. frugiperda flight and migration. In this study, we used laboratory experiments to assess whether mating and oviposition affect S. frugiperda flight ability and wingbeat frequency. During 2019-2020, migratory FAW females were trapped in Yunnan (China) and dissected to assess ovarian development. Tethered flight assays showed that gravid S. frugiperda females exhibited strong flight ability at 1-3 days following the onset of oviposition. Flight distance and duration negatively correlated with the number of deposited eggs. Ovarian dissections further showed that over 50% of migrant females were mated and 46-54% had initiated oviposition. Our study shows the complex, yet nuanced effects of reproductive status on flight capacity, with possibly a facultative trade-off between flight and reproduction. These novel insights into S. frugiperda physiology and migration behavior can guide future monitoring and integrated pest management (IPM) programs against this newly-invasive pest in China and abroad.