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Keywords:

  • community ecology;
  • dilution effect;
  • DNA barcoding;
  • field survey;
  • functional response;
  • life history strategy;
  • mtDNA COI

Abstract

Our study investigated the importance of variability in the parasitoid community as a source of selection on host group size using a field population of the tupelo leafminer, Antispila nysaefoliella Clemens, which specializes on tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica Marsh. Larvae were collected from leaves with variable numbers of larvae and screened for parasitism using polymerase chain reaction of mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I using markers designed specifically for amplifying parasitoid DNA while excluding host DNA. This method of selective PCR was effective for detecting the presence and identifying species of immature stages of three hymenopteran superfamilies: Chalcidoidea, Ichneumonoidea and Platygastroidea, which represented 83.4%, 16.0% and 0.6% of the total detectable parasitism, respectively. Our resulting sequences were then calibrated with sequences from identified adult parasitoids that had been either reared or field-captured. A cluster analysis revealed 10 distinct clades that showed differences in attack patterns with respect to host traits and season. Total parasitism followed an inverse density-dependent or density-independent pattern with respect to host density (number per leaf). However, when parasitoid taxa were considered separately, one clade, which could be a cryptic species of Pnigalio maculipes Crawford (Chalcidoidea: Eulophidae), was found to increase its per leaf attack rate with host density. Our results suggest that parasitoid community composition and differences among species in their attack strategies can play a large role in determining the adaptive advantage of host grouping.