Meek mothers with powerful daughters: effects of novel host environments and small trait differences on parasitoid competition

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Outcomes of competition may depend both on subtle differences in traits relevant to fitness and on how those traits are expressed in the context of the environment. Environmental effects on traits impacting population dynamics are often overlooked in studies of parasitic wasp (parasitoid) competition. Lineages of the parasitoid Diachasma alloeum (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) differ in relative ovipositor length (a trait affecting the proportion of hosts available for parasitism). Since the size of natal hosts affects the overall body size of many adult parasitoids, outcomes of competition between D. alloeum lineages should be influenced by both their natal host's size and their inherited ovipositor:body size ratios. Previous genetic work showed the unexpected result that the apparently inferior competitor (the lineage with smaller ovipositors in its ancestral environment) has successfully colonized a new host. We present body size measurements and a phenomological model of competition showing that relative ovipositor sizes of the two lineages predict success of the apparently inferior wasp lineage in the new host. We present several variants of the model, including simulations: 1) wherein competitors have either ancestral trait values or trait values acquired in the novel environment; 2) that allow varying rates of constant immigration from the inferior competitor's source population; and 3) with stochastic immigration from both lineages' source populations. We show that ancestral trait differences and changes in environmentally mediated traits interact to affect outcomes of competition. Apparently inferior female parasitoids (‘meek mothers’) attacking a host in a novel environment can produce highly successful daughters if those daughters inherit large ovipositor:body size ratios and grow to a larger size in the new environment. Predictive models of parasitoid competition that consider effects of environmentally mediated trait changes may be particularly important for biocontrol programs wherein parasitoids are introduced into new environments or used to control novel hosts.

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