1. We analysed the foraging behaviour of two closely related parasitoid species (Cotesia rubecula and Cotesia glomerata) with respect to leaving tendencies from patches in different environments. We investigated how intrapatch experiences like contact with feeding damage and encounters with hosts influence patch leaving decisions. We also estimated the effect of experiences in previously visited patches on leaving decisions in the present patch.
2. For this analysis we applied the proportional hazards model (Cox 1972) to data collected in three versions of a multiple patch set-up. These set-ups consisted of different host species or combinations of host species: (1) Pieris rapae, (2) Pieris brassicae and (3) both P. rapae and P. brassicae. The larvae of these hosts differ in their spatial distribution on plants: P. brassicae occur in clusters and the distribution of larvae is heterogeneous; P. rapae larvae feed solitarily.
3. The specialist parasitoid C. rubecula used a simple strategy: highest leaving tendency on empty leaves, lower leaving tendency on leaves infested with the non-preferred host P. brassicae, lowest leaving tendency on leaves infested with the preferred host, P. rapae. In the environment with both host species, the leaving tendency only decreased on leaves infested with P. rapae.
4. The generalist C. glomerata used a more complex set of rules. (a) Multiple ovipositions on the present patch decreased the leaving tendency on leaves containing the gregarious host. (b) Once the parasitoid had encountered two or more hosts, it had a lower leaving tendency during subsequent patch visits. (c) The leaving tendency increased with the number of visits on infested leaves. In environments where the less preferred host P. rapae was present, C. glomerata switched to the same simple type of rule as used by C. rubecula.
5. Neither of the two Cotesia species used a count-down rule, in which ovipositions increase the leaving tendency. We discuss how patch exploitation by both Cotesia species compares to the patch exploitation mechanisms as proposed by Waage (1979) and Driessen et al. (1995).
6. We formulate an ‘adjustable termination rate’ model for patch exploitation in both Cotesia species in multi-patch environments.