Egg limitation, host quality, and dynamic behavior by a parasitoid in the field

George E. Heimpel, Jay A. Rosenheim, Marc Mangel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Patterns of host selection and host use by insects with parasitic lifestyles are predicted to be fundamentally dynamic, responding to environmental conditions and physiological states. A particularly robust prediction is that the number of mature eggs that a female carries (her "egg load") should influence behavior. As egg load decreases, females are predicted to exhibit increasingly selective host use patterns. We tested the hypothesis that egg load and host size influence the behavior of the parasitoid wasp Aphytis aonidiae attacking the armored scale insect Quadraspidiotus perniciosus. Aphytis females can use hosts either for oviposition or for adult "host feeding," which is the consumption of host material by adult parasitoids. Theory predicts that host feeding should be (i) favored by low egg loads and (ii) more prevalent on lower-quality (smaller) hosts. We conducted observations of individual females foraging freely in the field to determine whether hosts were used for oviposition or for host feeding. As predicted by theory, the likelihood that a host was used for oviposition (as opposed to host feeding) increased with both parasitoid egg load and host size. Thus, parasitoids exhibited higher host-selectivity at lower egg loads. Since egg load and a parasitoid's experience with hosts were not experimentally separated, the egg load effect could in principle have been either direct or indirect and operating through a correlation with experience. In either case, this result constitutes the first demonstration of a link between physiological state and oviposition behavior by a parasitoid in the field. Parasitoid age, as measured using a wing wear index, did not influence behavior. A laboratory study revealed that the relationship between a host's size and the size and initial egg load of the parasitoid developing on that host was positive, but that it followed a pattern of diminishing returns. No effect of host size on behavior could be detected over the range of host sizes that were within the asymptotic region of this relationship.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2410-2420
Number of pages11
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1996


  • Aphytis
  • Egg limitation
  • Egg load
  • Host feeding
  • Host quality
  • Oviposition
  • Parasitoid
  • Quadraspidiotus perniciosus


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