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Lethal Interactions Between Parasites and Prey Increase Niche Diversity in a Tropical Community

Science  14 Mar 2014:
Vol. 343, Issue 6176, pp. 1240-1244
DOI: 10.1126/science.1245007

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Hidden Diversity

Why are there so many species in the tropics? Niche partitioning by highly specialized plant species seems to be the main generator of high diversity. Condon et al. (p. 1240; see the Perspective by Godfray) show that niche partitioning can also be generated by interactions between plant resources and parasites, resulting in hyperdiverse communities. The cryptic diversity of 14 neotropical fly pollinators and 18 of their highly specific wasp parasites induced mortality partitions between multiple narrow niches. The extreme specificity of the wasp-fly relationships was initially only revealed by molecular analysis.

Abstract

Ecological specialization should minimize niche overlap, yet herbivorous neotropical flies (Blepharoneura) and their lethal parasitic wasps (parasitoids) exhibit both extreme specialization and apparent niche overlap in host plants. From just two plant species at one site in Peru, we collected 3636 flowers yielding 1478 fly pupae representing 14 Blepharoneura fly species, 18 parasitoid species (14 Bellopius species), and parasitoid-host associations, all discovered through analysis of molecular data. Multiple sympatric species specialize on the same sex flowers of the same fly host-plant species—which suggests extreme niche overlap; however, niche partitioning was exposed by interactions between wasps and flies. Most Bellopius species emerged as adults from only one fly species, yet evidence from pupae (preadult emergence samples) show that most Bellopius also attacked additional fly species but never emerged as adults from those flies.

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