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Taxon-biased diet preference in the ‘generalist’ beetle-hunting wasp Cerceris rubida provides insights on the evolution of prey specialization in apoid wasps

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Opportunism and specialization appear to be widespread in apoid wasps, although the factors affecting the diet preference (and thus explaining the degree of specialization) are still largely unknown. Four hypotheses that stressed the importance of the size, sex, habitat, and taxonomic identity of prey of the beetle-hunting digger wasp, Cerceris rubida, were formulated and tested. The wasp population hunted for phytophagous beetles belonging to abundant families around the wasp nesting site. In practice, the prey appeared to be hunted only in two cultivated fields, thus habitat accounted for a majority of the observed diet. The size of wasps was furthermore correlated with the size of their prey, and thus this also accounted for the frequencies of hunted prey and the strong individual specialization for both taxa and size. However, in the exploited habitat, some species were significantly over-hunted than expected and some other significantly avoided by the wasps, causing an unexpected major role of prey taxon on the probability of being hunted, over the other explanatory variables (body size, body shape, sex, availability). This contrasts to that found in other wasp species, which appear to select prey basing essentially on their ecology and size or their relative abundance (opportunism). The results obtained in the present study show that even an apparent ‘generalist’ predator may turn out to be taxonomically specialized. Together with a re-evaluation of previous studies, our results further suggest that the effect of size constraints and the developmental plan of prey (holometaboulous versus hemimetabolous) may have promoted either taxonomic opportunism or specialization in different lineages of apoid wasps. ¬© 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 99, 544–558.
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Keywords: biological traits; individual selection; provisioning; resource use

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Dipartimento di Biologia, Sezione di Zoologia e Citologia, Universit√† degli Studi di Milano, via Celoria, 26, 20133, Milano, Italy 2: Sezione di Zoologia degli Invertebrati e di Idrobiologia, Museo Tridentino di Scienze Naturali, Via Calepina 14, 38122 Trento, Italy 3: Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche ‘Mario Negri’, Milano, Italy

Publication date: 2010-03-01

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