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Taxonomic Expertise

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Taxonomic Group: Diptera: Brachycera

Group Coordinator: Thomas Pape


The Brachycera is a well-corroborated monophyletic group (Yeates & Wiegmann 1999), which is often treated as a suborder within the two-winged insects (Diptera). Together with the Nematocera, Brachycera increase in the relative proportion of the insect fauna at increasing altitude as well as at higher latitudes, whether counting the number of species or the number of individuals, and Diptera are the dominating insect group in high montane, subarctic, and arctic environments.

Brachycera are ecologically very diverse (Hövemyer 2000). Many of the 'lower brachycerans' are predatory in the larval stage, with the parasitic Bombyliidae, Acroceridae and Nemestrinidae as significant exceptions. The Empidoidea includes a large assemblage of species where both adults and larvae are active predators. Many lineages within the species-rich Cyclorrhapha have adapted to a saprophagous life, but also parasitism has evolved numerous times, e.g., millipede parasitising Phaeomyiidae; insect parasitising Pipunculidae, Pyrgotidae, Cryptochetidae, Tachinidae and Rhinophoridae; mammal parasitising Oestridae; and plant parasitising Agromyzidae, Tephritidae, Chloropidae (in part), Scathophagidae (in part), and Anthomyiidae (in part). The Phoridae present a remarkable diversity of life habits, ranging from extreme specialisations like ladybird-parasitising species of Phalacrotocera to the 'omnivorous' Megaselia scalaris, which has been bred from an astonishingly broad range of organic materials even including shoe polish and paint (Disney 1994). The Syrphidae are well known for their multitude of larval life forms, and some of the more classic examples include rat-tails living in putrid water, free-living aphid predators, bulb miners, and inquilines and scavengers in nests of ants, bees, and social wasps (Thompson & Rotheray 2000).

Brachyceran flies contain several important agricultural pests, like cabbage flies (Delia spp., Anthomyiidae), shoot flies (Atherigona spp., Muscidae), frit flies (Oscinella frit, Chloropidae), and fruit flies (Tephritidae); others are blood-sucking, like the horn fly (Haematobia irritans, Muscidae) and the stable fly (Muscina stabulans, Muscidae); or vectors of various diseases like the bovine filariasis transmitted by some species of Musca (Krafsur & Moon 1997, Butler & Hogsette 2001). Flies may be a nuisance when occurring in vast numbers around landfills, garbage dumps, or dung-heaps (Howard 2001). Particularly remarkable cases of mass occurrences are given by the chloropid fly Thaumatomyia notata, specimens of which, possibly guided by a species-specific male pheromone, seek suitable places for overwintering and in extreme cases may enter buildings in such numbers that they darken the ceilings and create bucket-loads of dead bodies when they die in the dry indoor climate (Nartshuk 2000). On the beneficial side, many Brachycera are efficient decomposers and play an important role in cleaning sewage and recycling organic waste (McLean 2000); some hover flies (Syrphidae) and grass flies (Chloropidae) are predators on pest aphids (Thompson & Rotheray 2000, Ismay & Nartshuk 2000); and blow flies (Calliphoridae) may serve as forensic indicators (Catts & Goff 1992, Byrd & Castner 2000) and even improve human health through the treatment of complicated wounds (Sherman 2001, 2002, 2003). Drosophila melanogaster has become the archetype of a geneticists laboratory animal, and the multitude of genetic studies performed on this species has had a profound impact on our understanding of gene expression, gene regulatory mechanisms, mutations, etc.

With some 12,000 species of Brachycera and 7000 species of Nematocera listed for Europe, the knowledge of the taxonomic composition of the European Diptera fauna is far better than for any other major region. Europe currently has more named species than each of the Afrotropical region, the Oriental region, and the Australasian region, each of which has some 16-17000 named species. This, however, is certainly due to historical circumstances, with Europe having a much longer taxonomic tradition and with relatively more funding being available to the European taxasphere. The number of species added to the European Diptera fauna is remarkably constant over time, and the species accumulation curve shows to date no signs of levelling off (Pape, unpubl.). Among the Brachycera, the most species rich families in the European fauna are the Agromyzidae, Tachinidae, Syrphidae, Empididae and Dolichopodidae. Much remains to be discovered, and especially the Phoridae stands out as potentially vastly more diverse than suggested by its current count.

Many Brachycera are saproxylic and may have considerable potential as indicators of woodland quality (Speight 1986). Indicator species of old-growth forests are usually rare, but our knowledge on Diptera is in general too sparse to allow reliable assessments of the conservation status of particular species. Such evaluations are desirable for long-term management plans, and we are seeing still more species of Diptera finding their way into regional 'red lists', e.g. Falk (1991), Stark (1996), Binot et al. (1998), Pollet (2000). One European fly species is now considered extinct: Thyreophora cynophila (Piophilidae: Thyreophorinae), which around 1800 may have been frequently encountered, often in the early spring, on larger carrion like dead dogs, mules, and horses (Séguy 1950). The disappearance of this morphologically quite conspicuous species may be due to changes in livestock management and improved carrion disposal following the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Seen on a longer time scale, however, it is likely to be a European example of an extinction caused by the impoverishment of the megafauna - no large predators to leave large carcasses with partly crushed long bones exposing their medullar canal and bone marrow, which may have been the favoured breeding site for T. cynophila.

Associate specialists:
The Fauna Europaea checklist would not have reached its current level of completion without the input from several Associate Specialists. While the formal responsibility of collating and delivering the data for relevant families has resided with the appointed Taxonomic Specialist, the Associate Specialists deserve full credit for their important contributions:

Bombyliidae, Mythicomyiidae:
Evenhuis, N.L., Bishop Museum, Honolulu

Tanasijtshuk, V.N., Zoological Institute, St. Petersburg

Shatalkin, A.I., Zoological Museum, Moscow

Knutson, L., Gaeta (Italy)

Bystrowski, C., Instytut Badawczy Lesnictwa, Raszyn
Bergström, C., Uppsala
Cerretti, P., Università di Roma
Hubenov, Z., Institute of Zoology, Sofia
Raper, C., Reading
Richter, V.A., Zoological Institute, St. Petersburg
Van de Weyer, G., Reet,
Vanhara, J., Masaryk University, Brno
Zeegers, T., Soest
Ziegler, J., Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin



Many people have generously shared their expertise and contributed to the checklist by supplying miscellaneous taxonomic and/or faunistic data to one or more of the taxonomic specialists. This input is highly appreciated, and the contributors are here listed in alphabetical order: S. Andersen (Copenhagen), H. Andersson (Lund), M. Báez (La Laguna), V. Beschovski (Sofia), R.M. Blackith (Dublin), Javier Blasco-Zumeta (Zaragoza), R. Contreras-Lichtenberg (Vienna), R. Danielsson (Lund), M. Dempewolf (Amsterdam), J.A. Dils (Hoevenen), R.H.L. Disney (Cambridge), A. Draber-Monko (Warszaw), P. Dyte (Datchet), M. Földvari (Budapest), A. Freidberg (Tel Aviv), P. Gatt (Rabat), D. González-Mora (Madrid), I. Grichanov (St Petersburg), P. Grootaert (Brussels), M. Hall (London), B. Herting (Stuttgart), J. Ismay (Oxford), T. Jonassen (Sjernaroy), C. Kehlmaier (Stuttgart), I. MacGowan (Battleby), H. Meuffels (Vilt), H. Meyer (Kiel), B. Mocek (Hradec Králové), J.E. O'Hara (Ottawa), J. Olejnicek (Ceské Budejovice), L. Papp (Budapest), C. Parvu (Bucharest), R. Richet (Boulogne-sur-mer), A.I. Shatalkin (Moscow), L.E.N. Sijstermans (Amsterdam), J. Skevington (Ottawa), A. Stark (Halle/Saale), K. Szpila (Torun), A.G.B. Thomas (Toulouse), M. Vandenbosch (Tervuren), D. Ventura Peréz (Barcelona), Yu.G. Verves (Kiev).



Binot, M., Bless, R., Boye, P., Grüttke, H. & Prescher, P. (eds) 1998. Rote Liste gefährdeter Tiere Deutschlands. Schriftenreie für Landschaftspflege und Naturschütz 55: 1-434.

Butler, J. F. & Hogsette, J.A. 2001. Horn Fly Haematobia irritans (L.) and Stable Fly Stomoxys calcitrans (L.). In: Pimental, D. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Pest Management. CAB Publications, UK.

Byrd, J.H. & Castner, J.L. (eds) 2000. Forensic entomology: the utility of arthropods in legal investigations. CRC Press; 418 pp.

Catts, E.P. & Goff, M.L. 1992. Forensic entomology in criminal investigations. Annual review of Entomology 37: 253-272.

Disney, R.H.L. 1994. Scuttle flies, Phoridae. Chapman & Hall (Kluwer).

Falk, P. 1991. A review of the scarce and threatened flies of Great Britain (part I). - Research and survey in nature conservation 39: 1-194. The Joint nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

Howard, J. 2001. Nuisance flies around a landfill: Patterns of abundance and distribution. Waste Management and Research 19: 308-313.

Hövemeyer, K. 2000. Ecology of Diptera. Pp. 437-489 in: Papp, L. & Darvas, B. (eds), Contributions to a manual of Palaearctic Diptera (with special reference to flies of economic importance). Vol. 1, General and applied dipterology. Science Herald, Budapest.

Ismay, J.W. & Nartshuk, E.P. 2000. Family Chloropidae. Pp. 387-429 in: Papp, L. & Darvas, B. (eds), Contributions to a manual of Palaearctic Diptera (with special reference to flies of economic importance). Appendix. Science Herald, Budapest.

Krafsur, E.S. & Moon, R.D. 1997. Bionomics of the face fly, Musca autumnalis. Annual Review of Entomology 42: 503-523.

McLean, I.F.G. 2000. Beneficial Diptera and their role in decomposition. Pp. 491-517 in: Papp, L. & Darvas, B. (eds), Contributions to a manual of Palaearctic Diptera (with special reference to flies of economic importance). Vol. 1, General and applied dipterology. Science Herald, Budapest.

Nartshuk, E.P. 2000 Periodicity of outbreaks of the predatory fly Thaumatomyia notata Mg. (Diptera, Chloropidae) and its possible reasons. Entomologicheskoe obozrenie 79: 771-781. [In Russian; English translation in Entomological Review, Washington DC, 80: 911-918.]

Pollet, M. 2000. A documented red list of the dolichopodid flies (Diptera: Dolichopodidae) of Flanders. Communications of the Institute of Nature Conservation 8: 1-190. [In Dutch with English summary.]

Séguy, E. 1950. La biologie des diptères. Encyclopédie entomologique, Ser. A 26: 1-609.

Sherman, R.A. 2001. Maggot therapy for foot and leg wounds. International Journal of Lower Extremity Wounds 1: 135-42.

Sherman, R.A. 2002. Maggot vs conservative debridement therapy for the treatment of pressure ulcers. Wound Repair and Regeneration 10: 208-14.

Sherman, R.A. 2003. Cohort study of maggot therapy for treating diabetic foot ulcers. Diabetes Care 26: 446-51.

Speight, M.C.D. 1986. Attitudes to insects and insect conservation. Proceedings of the 3rd European Congress of Entomology: 369-385.

Stark, A. 1996. Besonderheiten der Dipterenfauna Sachsen-Anhalts - eine Herausforderung für den Natur- und Umweltschutz. Berichte des Landesamtes für Umweltschutz Sachsen-Anhalt, Halle 1996(21): 100-108.

Thompson, F.C. & Rotheray, G. 2000. Family Syrphidae. Pp. 81-139 in: Papp, L. & Darvas, B. (eds), Contributions to a manual of Palaearctic Diptera (with special reference to flies of economic importance). Vol. 3, Higher Brachycera. Science Herald, Budapest.

Yeates, D.K. & Wiegmann, B.M. 1999. Consensus and controversy: toward a higher-level phylogeny of Diptera. Annual Review of Entomology 44: 397-428.

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