1. We investigated spatial dynamics in two specialist larval parasitoids, Cotesia melitaearum and Hyposoter horticola, attacking the Glanville fritillary butterfly, Melitaea cinxia, in Finland.
2. Presence of C. melitaearum in a host larval group significantly reduced the rate of parasitism by H. horticola (18 vs. 33% in groups with and without C. melitaearum), but there was no significant reverse effect. The parasitism rates at the level of local populations showed a similar trend.
3 Hyposoter horticola females moved frequently among larval groups, whereas C. melitaearum females often spent several days at a single larval group. In agreement with these behavioural observations about movements within populations, H. horticola was found to have a higher colonization rate of host populations than C. melitaearum.
4. At the within-population level, C. melitaearum tended to occupy large larval groups in the centre of the host population, whereas H. horticola parasitized also small and more isolated (peripheral) larval groups, especially in the presence of C. melitaearum. At the metapopulation level, host population size had a significant positive effect on the presence of local populations of both parasitoid species, but isolation had a significant negative effect on the presence of C. melitaearum only.
5. These results suggest that C. melitaearum is a superior competitor, but an inferior disperser to H. horticola, which facilitates the co-existence of the two species both at the level of local populations and at the level of a metapopulation.
6. Data from a 50-patch network showed a decline in the number of host populations from 34 to 13 in 4 years. This decline caused a near-extinction of the superior competitor, but inferior disperser, C. melitaearum, whereas the abundance of the inferior competitor, but superior disperser, H. horticola, remained relatively constant, in agreement with the prediction of a theoretical model.