Understanding the extent and causes of tropical insect diversity is a major challenge in modern ecology and generally requires two approaches:
- Rigorous biodiversity inventories of the insects at particular sites
- Reconstructing food webs, demonstrating the trophic interactions between species
This project will use both approaches to test specific hypotheses on microgastrine ecology and evolution. The research will focus on microgastrine parasitoid wasps (Hymenoptera: Braconidae: Microgastrinae), one of the most species-rich groups in terrestrial ecosystems. The research will synthesize the caterpillar database inventory of the Area de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) in Costa Rica with an extensive genetic dataset (Barcode of Life Data Systems) used to help identify species. The ACG inventory has generated the largest dataset in the world on the biology of caterpillars, their parasites, and host plants.
Trophic links (who is eating whom) are established through collecting and rearing caterpillars on host plants and rearing parasitoids from caterpillars. Construction and analyses of microgastrine parasitoid food webs will provide insights into community structure, crucial in interpreting patterns of parasitoid diversity, and provide the basis for hypotheses about structuring processes.
Cotesia female wasp and Manduca caterpillar host. Photo Credit: Alex Wild
Background Photo Credit: Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs