Targeted sugar provision promotes parasitism of the cereal leaf beetle Oulema melanopus

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Abstract:

• Parasitoids may often lack access to sugar (e.g. floral nectar) in agricultural settings. Strategically timed spraying of host plants with sugar solution may provide one means of enhancing parasitism at the same time as minimizing nontarget effects (e.g. benefiting the pest itself).

• Sucrose was sprayed in wheat fields of northern Utah (U.S.A.) to assess the effects on parasitism of the cereal leaf beetle Oulema melanopus by the larval parasitoid Tetrastichus julis.

• Early-season sugar provisioning, when larvae of the pest were first hatching and parasitoid adults were newly emerged, did not affect the numbers of cereal leaf beetle larvae that matured in treated plots but increased parasitism rates of beetle larvae by four-fold in 2006 and by seven-fold in 2007.

• No net influx of adult parasitoids into plots was detected after the application of sugar. Locally-emerging parasitoids may have spent less time searching for their own food needs versus hosts. A laboratory experiment also confirmed that access to sucrose significantly increased parasitoid longevity.

• The field experimental results obtained demonstrate that applications of sugar, implemented to target a key time of the growing season when benefits are maximized for parasitoids and minimized for their hosts, can strongly promote parasitism of the cereal leaf beetle in wheat fields.
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