1. The bottom-up factors that determine parasitoid host use are an important area of research in insect ecology. Host size is likely to be a primary cue for foraging parasitoids due to its potential influence on offspring development time, the risk of multiparasitism, and host immunocompetence. Host size is mediated in part by host-plant traits that influence herbivore growth and potentially affect a herbivore's quality as a host for parasitoids.
2. Here, we tested how caterpillar host size and host plant species influence adult fly parasitoid size and whether host size influences wasp parasitoid sex allocation. We measured the hind tibia lengths and determined the sex of wasp and fly parasitoids reared from 11 common host species of polyphagous caterpillars (Limacodidae) that were in turn reared on foliage of seven different host plant species.
3. We also tested how host caterpillar species, host caterpillar size, and host and parasitoid phenology affect how the parasitoid community partitions host resources. We found evidence that parasitoids primarily partition their shared hosts based on size, but not by host species or phenology. One index of specialisation (d′) supports our observation that these parasitoids are quite generalised within the Limacodidae. In general, wasps were reared from caterpillars collected in early instars, while flies were reared from caterpillars collected in late instars. Furthermore, for at least one species of solitary wasp, host size influenced sex allocation of offspring by ovipositing females.
4. Host-plant quality indirectly affected the size attained by a tachinid fly parasitoid through its direct effects on the size and performance of the caterpillar host. The host plants that resulted in the highest caterpillar host performance in the absence of enemies also yielded the largest parasitoid flies, which suggests that host plant quality can cascade up to influence the third trophic level.