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Friend or foe? a parasitic wasp shifts the cost/benefit ratio in a nursery pollination system impacting plant fitness.

Citation

Villacañas de Castro, Carmen; Hoffmeister, Thomas S. (2021), Friend or foe? a parasitic wasp shifts the cost/benefit ratio in a nursery pollination system impacting plant fitness., Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.rjdfn2z75

Abstract

Nursery pollination systems are species interactions where pollinators also act as fruit/seed herbivores of the plant partner. While the plants depend on associated insects for pollination, the insects depend on the plants’ reproductive structures for larval development. The outcome of these interactions are thus placed on a gradient between mutualism and antagonism. Less specialised interactions may fluctuate along this gradient with the ecological context, where natural enemies can play an important role. We studied whether a natural enemy may impact the level of seed consumption of a nursery pollinator and how this in turn may influence individual plant fitness. We used the plant Silene latifolia, its herbivore Hadena bicruris, and its ectoparasitoid Bracon variator as a model plant-herbivore-natural enemy system. We investigated seed output, germination, survival, and flower production as proxies for individual plant fitness. We show that B. variator decreases the level of seed consumption by H. bicruris larvae which in turn increased seed output in S. latifolia plants, suggesting that parasitism by B. variator may act as a regulator in the system. However, our results also show that plant survival and flower production decrease with higher seed densities, and therefore an increase in seed output may be less beneficial for plant fitness than estimated from seed output alone. Our study should add another layer to the complex discussion of whether parasitoids contribute to plant fitness, as we show that taking simple proxies such as seed output is insufficient to determine the net effect of multitrophic interactions.