- Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway
- Biocontrol, Biodiversity, Biological invasions, Ecology, Methodology, Pest management
The open bar is closed: restructuration of a native parasitoid community following successful control of an invasive pest.
Raise and fall of an invasive pest and consequences for native parasitoid communities
Host-parasitoid interactions have been the focus of extensive ecological research for decades. One the of the major reasons is the importance host-parasitoid interactions play for the biological control of crop pests. Parasitoids are the main natural regulators for a large number of economically important pest insects, and in many cases they could be the only viable crop protection strategy. Parasitoids are also integral part of complex food webs whose structure and diversity display large spatio-temporal variations [1-3]. With the increasing globalization of human activities, the generalized spread and establishment of invasive species is a major cause of disruption in local community and food web spatio-temporal dynamics. In particular, the deliberate introduction of non-native parasitoids as part of biological control programs, aiming the suppression of established, and also highly invasive crop pests, is a common practice with potentially significant, yet poorly understood effects on local food web dynamics (e.g. ).
In their study, Muru et al.  took advantage of an existing biological control program focusing on the Asian chestnut gall wasp Dryocosmus kuriphilus, an invasive (and highly damaging) pest of chestnut trees. The species is currently a successful invader in many geographic regions, including southern France, where local parasitoid communities failed to provide an adequate control since its widespread establishment in 2010 . In response, the non-native parasitoid species Torymus sinensis, which is highly-specific to the Asian chestnut gall wasp, was massively released in commercial chestnut orchards across several regions in France and the island of Corsica. The pest population outbreak was successfully contained, and thanks to the vast amount of host-parasitoid interaction data collected as part of the program, the authors were able to explore the effects of the large fluctuations in Asian chestnut gall wasp natural abundances on native parasitoid communities, immediately before, and up to five years following the introduction of its natural enemy T. sinensis.
Using co-occurrence and clustering analyses, Muru et al.  demonstrate that the invasion and the consecutive (efficient) control of the Asian chestnut gall wasp by the parasitoid T. sinensis have a significant impact on the structure of local parasitoid food webs. In particular, following decline in the Asian chestnut gall wasp’s populations, native parasitoids markedly switched to alternative hosts, most likely due to their respectively higher relative abundances. This pattern seemed to be driven by the degree of generalism in native parasitoid species. Indeed, when its abundances were still relatively high, the Asian chestnut gall wasp was primarily attacked by species capable of exploiting a broad range of hosts, while at low population densities only specialist parasitoids such as Mesolobus sericeus were able to persist and compete with the non-native T. sinensis.
The current study is important for two major reasons. First, it underscores the value of long-term species interaction data in order to understand the dynamic nature of food webs, namely their structural flexibility in response to changes in the environment or, as in this case, large fluctuation in abundances of a major pest species. In this context, biological control programs could be a great source of data for exploring long-term, large-scale dynamics of species interactions, and their use in ecological studies deserves to be further emphasized. Second, the study adds to the increasing empirical evidence that mobile generalist foragers can display adaptive, frequency-dependent switching behaviour (, ), which has been suggested to act as a key stabilizing mechanism in food webs by buffering fluctuating population dynamics at larger spatial scales ([8- 10]).
However, the timing of such buffering seems important, especially in systems such as commercial chestnut orchards. Despite their capacity to adaptively switch their foraging behaviour, the response of the native parasitoid communities to the new, unfamiliar resource was not fast enough in order to contain the primary outbreak under an appropriate damage threshold, thus requiring the introduction of the more specialized parasitoid T. sinensis. Nevertheless, based on current ecological theory, results presented by Muru et al.  suggest that the response of native parasitoid community to fluctuating host dynamics – i.e. shifts in parasitoid foraging behaviour based on their traits – could be predictable. This is encouraging considering the growing impact of biological invasions and insect pest outbreaks, but also the need to implement efficient, yet sustainable strategies for crop protection. Future studies would show at what extent observations by Muru et al.  are generalizable over longer time periods or other model systems. Noticeably, better understanding about population dynamics and interactions with the broader community of hosts available across habitats should allow to fine-tune predictions about parasitoids’ response to fluctuating resources.
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