Egg load dynamics and the risk of egg and time limitation experienced by an aphid parasitoid in the field

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Abstract

Insect parasitoids and herbivores must balance the risk of egg limitation and time limitation in order to maximize reproductive success. Egg and time limitation are mediated by oviposition and egg maturation rates as well as by starvation risk and other determinants of adult lifespan. Here, we assessed egg load and nutritional state in the soybean aphid parasitoid Binodoxys communis under field conditions to estimate its risk of becoming either egg- or time-limited. The majority of female B. communis showed no signs of egg limitation. Experimental field manipulations of B. communis females suggested that an average of 4–8 eggs were matured per hour over the course of a day. Regardless, egg loads remained constant over the course of the day at approximately 80 eggs, suggesting that egg maturation compensates for oviposition. This is the first case of such “egg load buffering” documented for a parasitoid in the field. Despite this buffering, egg loads dropped slightly with increasing host (aphid) density. This suggests that egg limitation could occur at very high host densities as experienced in outbreak years in some locations in the Midwestern USA. Biochemical analyses of sugar profiles showed that parasitoids fed upon sugar in the field at a remarkably high rate. Time limitation through starvation thus seems to be very low and aphid honeydew is most likely a source of dietary sugar for these parasitoids. This latter supposition is supported by the fact that body sugar levels increase with host (aphid) density. Together, these results suggest that fecundity of B. communis benefits from both dynamic egg maturation strategies and sugar-feeding.

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