Host nutritional status mediates degree of parasitoid virulence

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Abstract

Parasitic organisms rely on the resources of their hosts to obtain nutrients essential for growth and reproduction. Insect parasitoids constitute an extreme condition since they develop in a single host from which they typically consume all available resources. As a result, the host is killed following parasitism. However, a few intriguing cases of host survival have been reported wherein hosts resume foraging and may even reproduce following parasitoid emergence. Yet, the ultimate and proximate mechanisms responsible for host recovery remain unresolved. We tested the impact of host nutrition on host fate and parasitoid fitness, using the association between Dinocampus coccinellae and the spotted lady beetle Coleomegilla maculata. Under laboratory conditions, we fed parasitized ladybirds on different aphid diets, with or without pollen. In the field, we followed the fate of parasitized ladybirds during seasonal variations in pollen and aphid abundance. We found that ladybirds fed on aphids or a combination of aphids and pollen recovered more frequently from parasitism (from 65 to 81%) than those eating only pollen (48%). Field data suggest that the fate of parasitized ladybirds is also related to food availability. On the other hand, when hosts fed on a combination of aphids and pollen, consequences for parasitoid fitness were often ‘all-or-nothing’: parasitoid emergence rate was the lowest of all host nutrition regimes (∼50%), but parasitoids that did emerge were larger than individuals emerging from other host nutrition regimes. Laboratory and field results concur to show that host nutritional status during parasitoid development significantly influences both host fate and parasitoid fitness.

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