Plants attacked by herbivorous insects emit volatile compounds that attract predators or parasitoids of the herbivores. Plant fitness increases when these herbivorous insects are parasitized by solitary parasitoids, but whether gregarious koinobiont parasitoids also confer a benefit to plant fitness has been disputed. We investigated the relationship between parasitoid load of the gregarious Cotesia glomerata (L.) (Hymenoptera: Braconidae), food consumption by larvae of their host Pieris brassicae L. (Lepidoptera: Pieridae), and seed production in a host plant, Brassica nigra L. (Brassicaceae), in a greenhouse experiment. Plants damaged by caterpillars containing single parasitoid broods produced a similar amount of seeds as undamaged control plants and produced significantly more seeds than plants with unparasitized caterpillars feeding on them. Increasing the parasitoid load to levels likely resulting from superparasitization, feeding by parasitized caterpillars was significantly negatively correlated with plant seed production. Higher parasitoid brood sizes were negatively correlated with pupal weight of Cotesia glomerata, revealing scramble competition leading to a fitness trade-off for the parasitoid. Our results suggest that in this tritrophic system plant fitness is higher when the gregarious parasitoid deposits a single brood into its herbivorous host. A prediction following from these results is that plants benefit from recruiting parasitoids when superparasitization is prevented. This is supported by our previous results on down-regulation of synomone production when Brassica oleracea was fed on by parasitized caterpillars of P. brassicae. We conclude that variable parasitoid loads in gregarious koinobiont parasitoids largely explain existing controversies about the putative benefit of recruiting these parasitoids for plant reproduction.
Smallegange, R. C., van Loon, J. J. A., Blatt, S. E., Harvey, J. A., & Dicke, M. (2008). Parasitoid load affects plant fitness in a tritrophic system. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 128(1), 172-183. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1570-7458.2008.00693.x