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Keywords:

  • Carabidae;
  • Coccinellidae;
  • DNA half-life;
  • molecular gut-content analysis;
  • PCR;
  • Pentatomidae;
  • predation;
  • trophic links;
  • Leptinotarsa decemlineata;
  • Chrysomelidae;
  • Coleoptera

Abstract

Determining relative strengths of trophic links is critical for ranking predators for conservation biological control. Molecular gut-content analysis enables ranking by incidence of prey remains in the gut, but differential digestive rates bias such rankings toward predators with slower rates. This bias can be reduced by indexing each predator’s half-life to that of the middle-most half-life in a predator complex. We demonstrate this with data from key species in the predator complex of Colorado potato beetle (CPB), Leptinotarsa decemlineata (Say) (Coleoptera: Chrysomelidae), comprising adults and immatures of four taxonomically diverse species. These animals display order-of-magnitude variation in detectability half-life for the cytochrome oxidase I DNA sequence of a single CPB egg: from 7.0 h in larval Coleomegilla maculata (DeGeer) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) to 84.4 h in nymphal Perillus bioculatus (Fabricius) (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae). The raw species-specific incidence of L. decemlineata DNA in the guts of 351 field-collected predators ranged from 11 to 95%, ranking them as follows: C. maculata adults < Lebia grandis Hentz (Coleoptera: Carabidae) adults < Podisus maculiventris (Say) (Hemiptera: Pentatomidae) adults < P. maculiventris nymphs < P. bioculatus adults < P. bioculatus nymphs. Half-life adjustment reorders the rankings: C. maculata adults < P. bioculatus adults < P. bioculatus nymphs < P. maculiventris nymphs < L. grandis adults < P. maculiventris adults. These changes in status demonstrate the value of half-life-adjusted molecular gut-content data for ranking predators. This is the first study to measure prey detectability half-lives for the key arthropod predators of a major insect pest, and to use them to evaluate the relative impact of all adults and immatures in this predator complex.