Multifaceted determinants of host specificity in an aphid parasitoid

Nicolas Desneux, Ruth J. Barta, Kim A. Hoelmer, Keith R. Hopper, George E. Heimpel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

156 Scopus citations


The host specificity of insect parasitoids and herbivores is thought to be shaped by a suite of traits that mediate host acceptance and host suitability. We conducted laboratory experiments to identify mechanisms shaping the host specificity of the aphid parasitoid Binodoxys communis. Twenty species of aphids were exposed to B. communis females in microcosms, and detailed observations and rearing studies of 15 of these species were done to determine whether patterns of host use resulted from variation in factors such as host acceptance or variation in host suitability. Six species of aphids exposed to B. communis showed no signs of parasitism. Four of these species were not recognized as hosts and two effectively defended themselves from attack by B. communis. Other aphid species into which parasitoids laid eggs had low suitability as hosts. Parasitoid mortality occurred in the egg or early larval stages for some of these hosts but for others it occurred in late larval stages. Two hypotheses explaining low suitability were investigated in separate experiments: the presence of endosymbiotic bacteria conferring resistance to parasitoids, and aphids feeding on toxic plants. An association between resistance and endosymbiont infection was found in one species (Aphis craccivora), and evidence for the toxic plant hypothesis was found for the milkweed aphids Aphis asclepiadis and Aphis nerii. This research highlights the multifaceted nature of factors determining host specificity in parasitoids.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)387-398
Number of pages12
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements We thank Jacques Brodeur, Martha Hunter, Zeynep Sezen for comments on the manuscript, and Nancy Fares, Burke Bourne and Edwige Desneux for technical assistance. This work was funded in part by a USDA-RAMP project, in part by the North Central Soybean Research Council, and in part by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station.

Copyright 2009 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Binodoxys communis
  • Host range
  • Oviposition
  • Preference-performance hypothesis
  • Specialization


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