1. The wasp Diaeretiella rapae uses honeydew emitted by its host, the cabbage aphid Brevicoryne brassica, as a kairomone (chemicals emitted by an organism as part of its activity and used by its natural enemies to their advantage). The role of the kairomone in foraging decisions by the parasitic wasp was explored by manipulating the amount of honeydew and the number of aphids in a colony independently. The count-down patch-exploitation mechanism (Iwasa et al., 1981) was employed to predict the results of these manipulations and contrast them with the predictions of Waage's (1979) model.
2. Kairomonal activity of honeydew decreased as the honeydew aged and lost its activity completely within 72 h.
3. The wasp was exposed to different amounts of honeydew on (a) aphid-free leaves and (b) leaves bearing colonies of 150 aphids. The parasitoid search time on both leaf types increased with increasing honeydew contamination. On aphid-bearing leaves, the number of attacked aphids in the colonies also increased with increasing honeydew contamination. The presence of aphids reduced the parasitoid search time compared to search time on aphid-bearing leaves with the same level of honeydew contamination, as predicted by the count-down model.
4. Parasitoids exposed to the same amount of honeydew, but a different number of aphids in a colony on the leaf, first increased the number of aphids attacked in relation to the number of aphids in the colony. But as the colony reached a certain size, the number of aphids attacked levelled off, despite the increase in the number of aphids in the colony. Search time was variable but did not exhibit any trend as the number of aphids in the colonies increased.
5. These results suggest that honeydew level is used by D. rapae as a cue for assessment of the number of aphids in the colony. In such cases, a count-down exploitation mechanism gives the best results to a forager. Many parasitoids may use kairomones for patch assessment and will therefore employ a count-down rule during patch exploitation.