1. The harlequin bug, a herbivore on bladderpod, is attacked by two specialist egg parasitoids Trissolcus murgantiae and Ooencyrtus johnsonii. Ooencyrtus can out-compete Trissolcus in the laboratory, but coexistence is the norm in field populations. Despite the heavy mortality inflicted by the two parasitoids, the host–parasitoid interaction is persistent in all sites that have been studied in southern California.
2. I manipulated inter-patch distances in a field experiment to determine whether spatial processes drive parasitoid coexistence and/or host–parasitoid dynamics. I first tested the hypothesis that the parasitoids coexist via a dispersal–competition trade-off. Both parasitoid species took significantly longer to colonize isolated patches than well-connected patches, suggesting that they have comparable dispersal abilities. Ooencyrtus did not exclude Trissolcus even when inter-patch distances were reduced to 25–30% of those observed in natural populations. These data suggest that parasitoid coexistence can occur in the absence of a dispersal advantage to the inferior competitor.
3. Since the treatments with isolated vs. well-connected patches did not differ in parasitoid composition, I next asked whether isolation would destabilize, or drive extinct, the host–multiparasitoid interaction. No local extinctions of bugs or parasitoids were observed during the 18-month study period. Bug populations in the isolated patches were no more variable than those in the well-connected patches. In fact, temporal variability in the experimentally isolated patches was comparable to that observed in highly isolated natural populations.
4. These data argue against a strong effect of spatial processes on host–parasitoid dynamics. Local processes may mediate both parasitoid coexistence as well as the host–parasitoid interaction.