Interactions to the fifth thropic level: secondary and tertiary parasitoi wasps show extraordinary efficiency in utilizing host resources

J.A. Harvey, R. Wagenaar, T.M. Bezemer

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21 Citations (Scopus)


Parasitoid wasps are highly efficient organisms at utilizing and assimilating limited resources from their hosts. This study explores interactions over three trophic levels, from the third (primary parasitoid) to the fourth (secondary parasitoid) and terminating in the fifth (tertiary parasitoid). Host utilization and adult body mass of the secondary and tertiary parasitoid Gelis agilis was determined when developing on pre-pupae of its primary parasitoid host, Cotesia glomerata, and from pre-pupae of another secondary parasitoid, Lysibia nana that had developed initially on pre-pupae of C. glomerata. In both C. glomerata and G. agilis, the body mass of emerging adult parasitoids was strongly positively correlated with initial cocoon mass. For a given cocoon mass at parasitism, emerging adult G. agilis wasps were almost 90% as large as C. glomerata adults developing in healthy cocoons of comparable mass. Furthermore, G. agilis adults were still 75% as large as C. glomerata adults even when developing on L. nana that in turn had developed on C. glomerata. Otherwise, in terms of adult body mass per unit of host resources, there was no apparent difference in the quality of C. glomerata or L. nana hosts for the development of G. agilis. Analyses of carbon and nitrogen in body tissues of the parasitoids over the third to the fifth trophic level revealed that percentage nitrogen was higher and carbon lower in G. agilis and L. nana than in C. glomerata. Furthermore, percentage carbon was lower in adult G. agilis wasps that had developed from L. nana than from C. glomerata. We argue that the remarkable efficiency which characterizes the development of secondary and tertiary parasitoids is based on the very high nutritional quality of resources that increase in quality up the food chain and rigid selection optimizing allocation of limited host resources. Consequently, food webs involving secondary and tertiary parasitoids can go to levels hitherto unexplored thus far in empirical studies. The use of molecular markers in future studies may reveal just how long food chains involving these insects may extend
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)686-692
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • hyperparasitoids lysibia-nana
  • gelis-agilis hymenoptera
  • nitrogen limitation
  • development strategies
  • ichneumonidae
  • stoichiometry
  • constraints
  • complexity
  • evolution
  • insects

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