Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 August 2017
Diaeretiella rapae is an aphid parasitoid with potential for use in biological control strategies. However, several recent genetic studies have challenged the long held view that it is a generalist parasitoid. We investigated its ecological specialization and ability to use resources in cultivated and uncultivated areas. Ecological specialization would reduce its ability to exploit the diversity of aphid species, particularly in uncultivated areas, and to control pest aphids. Four D. rapae strains were studied, three reared on pest aphids on Brassicaceae and one strain on a non-pest aphid on Chenopodiaceae. For each strain, we performed host-switching experiments, with a total of six aphid species, five of which D. rapae parasitizes in France. We tested cross-breeding ability between strains to detect potential reproductive isolation linked to aphid host species in D. rapae. The strain reared on non-pest aphids was able to develop on aphid species from both cultivated and uncultivated plants. The strains reared on pest aphids, however, exclusively parasitized aphid species on cultivated Brassicaceae. In addition, reproductive isolation was detected between strains from uncultivated and cultivated plants. Thus, the D. rapae populations examined here appear to be showing ecological specialization or they may even be composed of a complex of cryptic species related to the aphid hosts. The role of Chenopodium album as a reservoir for D. rapae, by providing a habitat for non-pest aphids on which it can feed, appears to be severely limited, and thus its efficiency to maintain local populations of D. rapae in the vicinity of crops is questionable.