Active protection of unrelated offspring against parasitoids. A byproduct of self defense?
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Natural enemies exert selection pressure on their prey. Predators and parasitoids drive their prey into the evolution of novel traits to cope with this stress. When eggs and juveniles are the target of enemies, defense strategies may rely on adults. However, it is not easy to predict whether adults should actively protect unrelated offspring. Females of the golden egg bug (Phyllomorpha laciniata) mainly oviposit on conspecifics of either sex. Females can also lay eggs on their food plant. Eggs placed on plants suffer from a higher mortality caused by natural enemies than eggs carried by bugs. Females never carry their own eggs and males are seldom related to the eggs they carry. We experimentally explored if conspecifics protect the eggs by studying the behavioral interaction between P. laciniata individuals and the specialist egg parasitoid Gryon bolivari. All bugs exhibited active responses against parasitoids regardless of the sex of the bug, the egg load, and their mating status. Most of the responses prevented parasitoids from reaching the eggs, and thus they reduced the risk of egg parasitization. Although responses of bugs were effective to overcome parasitoid attacks, we suggest that egg protection against parasitoids has evolved as a co-opted trait from a general defense of adult bugs against enemies. In this system, egg defense is not an individual's strategy to protect the offspring, but rather a consequence of the eggs being attached to one's body. It may also explain the low parasitization carried eggs suffer in the wild. The results further highlight the idea of conspecifics as an enemy-free space in P. laciniata.
KeywordsEgg guarding Egg protection Enemy-free space Heteroptera Coreidae Hymenoptera Scelionidae
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