, Volume 150, Issue 2, pp 291-299
Date: 09 Aug 2006

Assessing trophic interactions in a guild of primary parasitoids and facultative hyperparasitoids: stable isotope analysis

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Facultative hyperparasitism is likely to be the most common form of intraguild predation among parasitoids. However, difficulties associated with studying facultative hyperparasitoids in the field have hampered a thorough understanding of their trophic ecology. In this study, we used a combination of stable isotope analysis and published natural history information to infer trophic interactions in a guild of field-collected primary parasitoids and facultative hyperparasitoids that attack a gall-making midge on Baccharis pilularis. Our three a priori hypotheses were: (1) stable isotope values should increase incrementally from the host plant to higher trophic levels; (2) the two species of ectoparasitoids should exhibit higher stable isotope signatures than the two endoparasitoids, and; (3) the two facultative hyperparasitoids should exhibit stable isotope signatures that fall between zero and one trophic level steps above that observed for the primary parasitoids. Food webs inferred from stable isotope data generally agreed with previously published accounts of community structure. As expected, both δ13C and δ15N were progressively enriched in the heavy isotope from the host plant to the herbivorous midge to the parasitic wasps. Multivariate analysis of stable isotope data revealed that the two primary ectoparasitoids occupied a similar trophic niche, but were significantly different from the primary endoparasitoids. We attribute this result to “coincidental intraguild predation” by ectoparasitoids that develop on already-parasitized midge larvae. One of the facultative hyperparasitoids, Zatropis capitis, exhibited a stable isotope signature approximately one trophic step above the primary parasitoids. Unexpectedly, the second facultative hyperparasitoid, Mesopolobus sp., appeared to be developing as a primary parasitoid at all sites. Coupled with independent assessments of community structure, stable isotope analysis validated trophic links constructed by previous researchers and identified potential taxon-specific differences in trophic interactions for two facultative hyperparasitoids in the B. pilularis gall community.

Communicated by Judith Bronstein