Effect of larval host food substrate on egg load dynamics, egg size and adult female size in four species of braconid fruit fly (Diptera: Tephritidae) parasitoids.
Life history theory predicts that individuals will allocate resources to different traits so as to maximize overall fitness. Because conditions experienced during early development can have strong downstream effects on adult phenotype and fitness, we investigated how four species of synovigenic, larval-pupal parasitoids that vary sharply in their degree of specialization (niche breadth) and life history (Diachasmimorpha longicaudata, Doryctobracon crawfordi, Opius hirtus and Utetes anastrephae), allocate resources acquired during the larval stage towards adult reproduction. Parasitoid larvae developed in a single host species reared on four different substrates that differed in quality. We measured parasitoid egg load at the moment of emergence and at 24 h, egg numbers over time, egg size, and also adult size. We predicted that across species the most specialized would have a lower capacity to respond to changes in host substrate quality than wasps with a broad host range, and that within species, females that emerged from hosts that developed in better quality substrates would have the most resources to invest in reproduction. Consistent with our predictions, the more specialized parasitoids were less plastic in some responses to host diet than the more generalist. However, patterns of egg load and size were variable across species. In general, there was a remarkable degree of reproductive effort-allocation constancy within parasitoid species. This may reflect more "time-limited" rather than "egg-limited" foraging strategies where the most expensive component of reproductive success is to locate and handle patchily-distributed and fruit-sequestered hosts. If so, egg costs, independent of degree of specialization, are relatively trivial and sufficient resources are available in fly larvae stemming from all of the substrates tested.
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