Direct and indirect effects of host food quality on host life history, host susceptibility to parasitism, and parasitoid life history
Thursday September 24th from 12:30-1:30 pm
Ecological communities are complex, comprising species and environmental factors that are so entangled in their effects on one another that ecologists and evolutionary biologists will forever be mystified by how they are assembled and function. Against such complexity, we have come to understand that autotrophic resources can have large cascading impacts on higher trophic levels via direct interactions (the effect of one species or environmental factor on another). However, because of indirect interactions (between species or environmental factors that are mediated through direct interactions with other species or factors), the relationships and dynamics we expect in natural communities are often not observed. In this thesis, I investigate how food resources directly impact consumer life histories and how this direct interaction indirectly impacts tertiary consumers in an experimental resource-host-parasitoid community. I address the direct and indirect effects of host food quality on primary and secondary consumer life histories in two highly replicated experimental life history assays. In the first assay, I ask whether variation in host life history traits in response to food quality is consistent within and across stages of host development. Importantly, throughout juvenile development, many organisms develop through several stages of growth that can have different interactions with their environment. For example, some parasitoids typically attack larger instars, whereas larval insect predators typically attack smaller instars. Interestingly, most studies lump all juvenile stages together, which ignores these ecological changes over juvenile development. Using a cross-sectional experimental approach combined with a stage-structured population model to estimate instar specific host vital rates, I show that food quality effects on host vital rates, growth and development are not consistent throughout ontogeny, suggesting host food quality may cascade to impact host susceptibility to parasitism and parasitoid life histories. In the second study, I ask whether host food quality indirectly cascades to impact host susceptibility to parasitism and parasitoid life histories. Using a similar cross-sectional approach, I show host food quality indirectly impacts host susceptibility to parasitism but has little to no effect on parasitoid life histories. Overall, my research shows that, despite large effects on host life histories, host food quality effects are markedly reduced in parasitoids in this system, emphasizing the need to consider specific species life histories when characterizing resource-host-parasitoid community relationships and dynamics, and whether or not resources cascade to impact higher trophic consumers.