Predicting the outcomes of a tri-trophic interaction between an indigenous parasitoid and an exotic herbivorous pest and its host plants



Dr Kent Daane, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA. Email:


Understanding the novel ecological interactions that result from biological invasions is a critical issue in modern ecology and evolution as well as pest management. Introduced herbivorous insects may interact with native plants and indigenous natural enemies, creating novel tri-trophic interactions. To help predict the potential outcomes of novel interactions, we investigated the behavioural and physiological responses of an indigenous generalist parasitoid (Habrobracon gelechiae) to an introduced generalist herbivore (the light brown apple moth, Epiphyas postvittana) and its new host plants in California. We first examined the parasitoid's host location and acceptance on a range of nine common host plants of the moth representing distinctly different geographic origins and morphologies (to examine the effect of a known toxic plant on the parasitoid's performance, an additional toxic plant species was also tested that the moth consumes in the laboratory but does not naturally attack). The parasitoid was able to locate the host larvae on all plants equally well, although clutch size was affected by host plant. We then determined fitness of the moth and the parasitoid on four representative plants. The moth larvae suffered higher mortality and a slower developmental rate on the known toxic plant than on the other three plants, but the parasitoid's fitness correlates did not differ between the host food plants. These results show a high level of plasticity in the indigenous generalist parasitoid in its ability to exploit the exotic host on a wide range of host plants, generating an invasion-driven novel tri-trophic interaction.