Ecology and evolution in a host-parasitoid system : Host search, immune responses and parasitoid virulence

Abstract: In host-parasitoid systems, there is a continuous coevolutionary arms race where each species imposes a strong selection pressure on the other. The host needs to develop defence strategies in order to escape parasitism and the parasitoid must evolve counter-defence strategies in order to overcome the host’s immune defence and successfully reproduce. This makes host-parasitoid systems excellent model systems for understanding evolutionary processes underlying host race formation and speciation. In order to gain a better understanding of the complexity of host-parasitoid interactions several aspects must be considered, such as search behaviour and host selection in the parasitoid, the development of immune responses in the host and counter-defence strategies in the parasitoid. In this thesis, I investigate interactions and coevolution in a natural host-parasitoid system, consisting of five species of Galerucella leaf beetles and three species of Asecodes parasitoids, by combining behavioural ecology with chemical ecology and immunology. In the studies performed, I found that pheromone production and responses in the beetles are connected to the phylogenetic relatedness between the Galerucella species (Paper I). I found no evidence that Asecodes exploits the adult pheromone to locate host larvae, but observed an ability in the parasitoids to distinguish a better host from a less suitable one based on larval odors (Paper II). The studies also revealed large differences in immune competence between the Galerucella species, which were linked to differences in hemocyte composition in the beetle larvae (Paper III, IV). Further, the results suggest that parasitism success in polyphagous Asecodes is strongly affected by former host species of the parasitoid (Paper IV). In conclusion, the results of this thesis suggest an on-going evolution in both parasitoid virulence and host immune responses in the Asecodes-Galerucella system.