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Host size and spatiotemporal patterns mediate the coexistence of specialist parasitoids

Pekas A., Tena A., Harvey J.A., Garcia-Marí F., Frago E.. 2016. Ecology, 97 (5) : p. 1345-1356.

Many insect parasitoids are highly specialized and thus develop on only one or a few related host species, yet some hosts are attacked by many different parasitoid species in nature. For this reason, they have been often used to examine the consequences of competitive interactions. Hosts represent limited resources for larval parasitoid development and thus one competitor usually excludes all others. Although parasitoid competition has been debated and studied over the past several decades, understanding the factors that allow for coexistence among species sharing the same host in the field remains elusive. Parasitoids may be able to coexist on the same host species if they partition host resources according to size, age, or stage, or if their dynamics vary at spatial and temporal scales. One area that has thus far received little experimental attention is if competition can alter host usage strategies in parasitoids that in the absence of competitors attack hosts of the same size in the field. Here, we test this hypothesis with two parasitoid species in the genus Aphytis, both of which are specialized on the citrus pest California red scale Aonidiella aurantii. These parasitoids prefer large scales as hosts and yet coexist in sympatry in eastern parts of Spain. Parasitoids and hosts were sampled in 12 replicated orange groves. When host exploitation by the stronger competitor, A. melinus, was high the poorer competitor, A. chrysomphali, changed its foraging strategy to prefer alternative plant substrates where it parasitized hosts of smaller size. Consequently, the inferior parasitoid species shifted both its habitat and host size as a result of competition. Our results suggest that density-dependent size-mediated asymmetric competition is the likely mechanism allowing for the coexistence of these two species, and that the use of suboptimal (small) hosts can be advantageous under conditions imposed by competition where survival in higher quality larger hosts may be

Thématique : Ecologie animale

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