, Volume 178, Issue 4, pp 1017–1032 | Cite as

Species differences in bumblebee immune response predict developmental success of a parasitoid fly

  • Staige E. Davis
  • Rosemary L. MalfiEmail author
  • T’ai H. Roulston
Physiological ecology - Original research


Endoparasitoids develop inside the body of a host organism and, if successful, eventually kill their host in order to reach maturity. Host species can vary in their suitability for a developing endoparasitoid; in particular, the host immune response, which can suppress egg hatching and larval development, has been hypothesized to be one of the most important determinants of parasitoid host range. In this study, we investigated whether three bumblebee host species (Bombus bimaculatus, Bombus griseocollis, and Bombus impatiens) varied in their suitability for the development of a shared parasitoid, the conopid fly (Conopidae, Diptera) and whether the intensity of host encapsulation response, an insect immune defense against invaders, could predict parasitoid success. When surgically implanted with a nylon filament, B. griseocollis exhibited a stronger immune response than both B. impatiens and B. bimaculatus. Similarly, B. griseocollis was more likely to melanize conopid larvae from natural infections and more likely to kill conopids prior to its own death. Our results indicate that variation in the strength of the general immune response of insects may have ecological implications for sympatric species that share parasites. We suggest that, in this system, selection for a stronger immune response may be heightened by the pattern of phenological overlap between local host species and the population peak of their most prominent parasitoid.


Host-parasitoid interaction Host suitability Encapsulation response Conopid fly Bombus 



We gratefully acknowledge funding and support from Sigma Xi’s Grant-in-Aid of Research Program, the University of Virginia’s Ingrassia Family Research Grant for Echols Scholars, and the National Science Foundation’s FSML Program (DBI1034846). S. E. D. was supported by the University of Virginia’s College Science Scholars Program and Blandy Experimental Farm. We thank Dr David E. Carr for his careful review of the statistical analyses in this paper. For their technical assistance in the field and laboratory we thank Amber Slatosky, Ariel Firebaugh, Courtney Beach, Megan Huff, and Kellen Paine. We also thank two anonymous referees whose comments improved this manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest in the execution or publication of this research.

Supplementary material

442_2015_3292_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1850 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Staige E. Davis
    • 1
  • Rosemary L. Malfi
    • 1
    Email author
  • T’ai H. Roulston
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA

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