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Under predicted global climate change, species will be gradually exposed to warmer temperatures, and to a more variable climate including more intense and more frequent heatwaves. Increased climatic variability is expected to have different effects on species and ecosystems than gradual warming. A key challenge to predict the impact of climate change is to understand how temperature changes will affect species interactions. Herbivorous insects and their natural enemies belong to some of the largest groups of terrestrial animals, and thus they have a great impact on the functioning of ecosystems and on the services these ecosystems provide. Here we studied the life history traits of the plant-feeding insect Plutella xylostella and its specialist endoparasitoid Diadegma semiclausum, when exposed to a daily heat pulse of 5 or 10°C temperature increase during their entire immature phase. Growth and developmental responses differed with the amplitude of the heat pulse and they were different between host and parasitoid, indicating different thermal sensitivity of the two trophic levels. With a +5°C heat pulse, the adult parasitoids were larger which may result in a higher fitness, whereas a +10°C heat pulse retarded parasitoid development. These results show that the parasitoid is more sensitive than its host to brief intervals of temperature change, and this results in either positive or negative effects on life history traits, depending on the amplitude of the heat pulse. These findings suggest that more extreme fluctuations may disrupt host-parasitoid synchrony, whereas moderate fluctuations may improve parasitoid fitness.
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