Comparing parasitoid life histories

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Species and clades are characterized by their unique combinations, or suites, of different life history traits. In parasitoids, traits include a core group common to other organisms, and a parasitoid-specific group. These organize into several sets of mutually covarying traits which overlap a little, but not wholly, with other sets. Across parasitoid species, host size, clutch size and body size tend to covary. Roughly independent of these is a dichotomy between idiobionts (host does not develop after parasitization), which tend to have fast development but slow adult life histories, and koinobionts (hosts develop after parasitization) with the opposite set of traits. Consistent links between the dichotomy and host characteristics remain elusive. A low ovigeny index (low allocation to early reproduction) is found in idiobionts, and is a predictor of some of the dichotomous set, but also more host feeding, egg resorption, solitary development, and larger bodies. Variation in fecundity, in taxonomically-restricted studies, is predicted by the host stage attacked, but this is not reflected in taxonomically-broad studies. The reasons behind trait co-variation are only partly understood. Analyses of evolutionary lability suggest that variation in development mode and body size tends to be clustered within higher taxonomic levels, with variation in other traits such as lifespan, fecundity and egg size more evenly distributed across taxonomic levels. Thus, taxonomically constrained radiations of parasitoids tend to retain a particular suite of traits that revolve around fundamental shifts in hosts and their use that occur relatively rarely. Parasitoids illustrate how the fast-slow continuum can be much less extensive than in mammals, how the ecology of the host affects the life histories of parasitic organisms, how different taxa require different life history theories, and how understanding resource allocation in early adult life can help explain life history variation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)147–162
Number of pages16
JournalEntomologia experimentalis et applicata
Early online date17 Mar 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 17 Mar 2016

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© 2016 The Netherlands Entomological Society This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details. Embargo period: 12 months


  • entomology
  • parasitoid
  • ecology
  • evolution
  • behavioural ecology

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