The role of age-structure on the persistence and the dynamics of insect herbivore - Parasitoid interactions
Bonsall MB., Eber S.
The role of top-down (e.g. parasitism) and bottom-up (e.g. resource competition) processes is of fundamental importance for the stability and persistence of insect herbivore populations. Although emphasis has often focused on single regulatory agents, the processes underpinning tri-trophic interactions may actually be more pluralistic. Recently, further complexities involved in the regulation of tri-trophic systems have been highlighted. In particular, life history characteristics may have a concomitant role when coupled with the regulatory effects of resource competition and/or parasitism. Here we present an age-structured model to investigate the effects of larval development period, parasitism and resource competition on the stability and persistence of herbivore - parasitoid interactions. We show that the influence of weak density dependent parasitism is sufficient to stabilise the interaction when the period of host susceptibility to parasitism is short. For longer periods of host susceptibility, parasitism needs to be highly non-linear to overcome the destabilising effects of the time delays. In systems where host development is protracted through the season we predict that resource competition is likely to be the dominant process for herbivore regulation. We use this age-structured approach to explore the population dynamics of two field studies from temperate ecosystems. Predictions from these case studies show 1) that both the strength and type of competition and parasitism are important for the stability and persistence of the particular system, and 2) that the length of the developmental period of the vulnerable host is critical to understand the influence of different regulatory processes. Host demography is of overriding importance in determining whether herbivores show outbreaks, and which particular ecological processes and mechanisms are responsible for generating such overcompensatory dynamics.