, Volume 156, Issue 4, pp 905-912
Date: 29 Apr 2008

Host specialization in habitat specialists and generalists

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Generalists and specialists use different cues to find their habitat and essential resources. While generalists have the advantage of exploiting a wider range of resources, they are predicted to be less efficient in using one particular resource compared to specialists. The level of specialization of parasitoids can be either at the habitat or at the host level; strategies used by either type are expected to differ. We examined interactions between three aphid parasitoid species that are a habitat specialist Aphidius rhopalosiphi, a habitat generalist Aphidius ervi, and a host generalist Praon volucre on three cereal aphids, Sitobion avenae, Metopolophium dirhodum and Rhopalosiphum padi. We compared total parasitism rate across behavioral and physiological variation in a non-choice test. Next, we addressed total parasitism in two phases to examine: (1) the response of parasitoids to different hosts through the behavioral sequence from antennation through oviposition, and (2) the physiological suitability of different hosts for oviposition and larval development. Parasitization typically involved the following behavioral steps: (1) antennal contact, (2) abdominal bending, and (3) ovipositor insertion (acceptance). A. rhopalosiphi had the same number of antennal contacts with the three aphids but showed fewer instances of abdominal bending towards R. padi. Pre-contact host preference was found for A. ervi but it did not correspond to the level of acceptance. The number of antennal contacts by P. volucre corresponded to the parasitization level of the aphid species but more mummies were produced on M. dirhodum than on R. padi. These results suggest that parasitoid species that are habitat specialists react similarly to the different host species present in the same habitat, whereas generalist species exhibit clear preferences during host selection. Preferences were, however, not always related to host suitability.

Communicated by Wolfgang Weisser.