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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Systematic Entomology Laboratory

Title: Lethal interactions between parasites and prey increase niche diversity in a tropical community

item Condon, M.
item Scheffer, Sonja
item Lewis, Matthew
item Wharton, R.
item Adams, Dean
item Forbes, A.

Submitted to: Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/29/2014
Publication Date: 3/14/2014
Citation: Condon, M.A., Scheffer, S.J., Lewis, M.L., Wharton, R.A., Adams, D.C., Forbes, A.A. 2014. Lethal interactions between parasites and prey increase niche diversity in a tropical community. Science. 343:1240-1244.

Interpretive Summary: Insects that feed on plants cause damage costing millions of dollars to agriculture in the U.S. and elsewhere. True fruit flies can be particularly damaging and are often difficult to control. Highly host-specific parasitic wasps can be used for biological control as part of an Integrated Pest Management program to reduce populations of fruit flies. We used DNA-barcode data from both parasitoids and their fruit fly hosts to determine detailed parasitoid-host associations on plants in the melon family. We found extraordinary complexity and otherwise concealed interactions illustrating the importance of a molecular approach to understand complex parasitoid-host interactions prior to the establishment of a biological control program.

Technical Abstract: Ecological specialization should minimize niche overlap, yet herbivorous neotropical flies (Blepharoneura) and their lethal parasitic wasps (parasitoids) exhibit both extreme specialization and apparent niche overlap in host plants. From just two plant species at one site in Peru, we collected 3636 flowers yielding 1478 fly pupae representing 14 Blepharoneura fly species, 18 parasitoid species (14 Bellopius species), and parasitoid-host associations, all discovered through analysis of molecular data. Multiple sympatric species specialize on the same sex flowers of the same fly host-species -- which suggests extreme niche overlap; however niche partitioning was exposed by interactions between wasps and flies. Most Bellopius species emerged as adults from only one fly species, yet evidence from pupae (preadult emergence samples) show that most Bellopius also attacked additional fly species but never emerged as adults from those flies.

Last Modified: 08/15/2017
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