Coexistence of specialist parasitoids with host refuges in the laboratory and the dynamics of spatial heterogeneity in attack rate
There is a well documented relationship between parasitoid species assemblage size and host feeding niche. Parasitoid assemblage size peaks on hosts thought to have intermediate levels of physical refuge. We examined the influence of refuges on parasitoid coexistence using pairs of specialist parasitoids in a controlled laboratory environment. Using physical barriers we excluded parasitoids from 0, 25, 50 or 75% of the hosts to simulate host refuge. We found no evidence that host refuges can promote parasitoid coexistence in a simplified laboratory environment. Results were similar whether pairs of parasitoid species were competitively disparate or competitively similar. Our results suggest that spatial heterogeneity in parasitoid attack rate was not sufficient to maintain parasitoid coexistence regardless of host refuge, and we argue that the level of spatial heterogeneity necessary to promote coexistence is rare in nature. We conclude that in most systems the coexistence of specialist parasitoids cannot be explained by a host refuge effect.