Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 April 2021
The world is astoundingly variable, and organisms – from individuals to whole communities – must respond to variability to survive. One example of nature’s variability is the fluctuations in populations of spruce budworm, Choristoneura fumiferana Clemens (Lepidoptera: Tortricidae), which cycle every 35 years. In this study, we examined how a parasitoid community altered its parasitism of budworm and other caterpillar species in response to these fluctuations. Budworm and other caterpillar species were sampled from balsam fir (Pinaceae) in three plots for 14 years in Atlantic Canada, then were reared to identify any emerging parasitoids. We found that the parasitoid community generally showed an indiscriminate response (i.e., no preference, where frequencies dictated parasitism rates) to changes in budworm frequencies relative to other caterpillar species on balsam fir. We also observed changes in topology and distributions of interaction strengths between the parasitoids, budworm, and other caterpillar species as budworm frequencies fluctuated. Our study contributes to the hypothesis that hardwood trees are a critical part of the budworm–parasitoid food web, where parasitoids attack other caterpillar species on hardwood trees when budworm populations are low. Taken together, our results show that a parasitoid community collectively alters species interactions in response to variable budworm frequencies, thereby fundamentally shifting food-web pathways.
Subject editor: Christie Bahlai