Gregarious koinobiont parasitoids attacking a range of host sizes have evolved several mechanisms to adapt to variable host resources, including the regulation of host growth, flexibility in larval development rate, and adjustment of clutch size. We investigated whether the first two mechanisms are involved in responses of the specialist gregarious parasitoid Microplitis tristis Nees (Hymenoptera: Braconidae) to differences in the larval weight and parasitoid load of its host Hadena bicruris Hufn. (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae). In addition, we examined the effects of parasitism on food consumption by the host. Parasitoids were offered caterpillars of different weight from all five instars, and parasitoid fitness correlates, including survival, development time, and cocoon weight, were recorded. Furthermore, several host growth parameters and food consumption of parasitized and unparasitized hosts were measured. Our results show that M. tristis responds to different host weights by regulating host growth and by adjusting larval development rate. In hosts with small weights, development time was increased, but the increase was insufficient to prevent a reduction in cocoon weight, and as a result parasitoids experienced a lower chance of successful eclosion. Cocoon weight was negatively affected by parasitoid load, even though host growth was positively affected by parasitoid load, especially in hosts with small weights. Later instars were more optimal for growth and development of M. tristis than early instars, which might reflect an adaptation to the life-history of the host, whose early instars are usually concealed and inaccessible for parasitism on its food plant, Silene latifolia Krause (Caryophyllaceae). Parasitism by M. tristis greatly reduced total host food consumption for all instar stages. Whether plants can benefit directly from the attraction of gregarious koinobiont parasitoids of their herbivores is a subject of current debate. Our results indicate that, in this system, the attraction of a gregarious koinobiont parasitoid can directly benefit the plant by reducing the number of seeds destroyed by the herbivore
Original languageEnglish
JournalEntomologia Experimentalis et Applicata
Journal publication date2003

ID: 307839