• egg limitation;
  • equilibrium;
  • fecundity;
  • host taxon;
  • life history trade-off;
  • model validation;
  • parasitoid;
  • pest;
  • population dynamics


1. A simple, intuitive argument and the tenets of the biological control literature both suggest that, in general, parasitoids with a greater fecundity will provide better control of their hosts, and will thus be better biological control agents.

2. A model of host-parasitoid dynamics, based on the standard Thompson–Nicholson–Bailey approach and incorporating the effects of parasitoid fecundity-limitation and host density-dependence, also indicates that as parasitoid fecundity decreases so does local stability and the degree of host suppression.

3. A taxonomically diverse data set obtained from the biological control record failed to support this theoretical prediction, but at the same time indicated a strong effect of host taxon on the outcome of biological control.

4. The hypothesis that the fecundity of parasitoids is correlated positively with their ability to suppress host populations is supported by data exclusively from the host order Lepidoptera.

5. Possible explanations for the divergence between the fecundity-limitation hypothesis and the complete data set include: the ability of parasitoids to provide long-term control of pests without the presence of a stable host–parasitoid equilibrium; differences between the concepts of successful control in theory and practice; evolutionary trade-offs between fecundity and other parasitoid life-history features, such as search efficiency, leading to better pest control by parasitoids with low fecundity; and differing windows of vulnerability to parasitoid attack between host taxa.