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Escaping the evolutionary trap: Can size-related contest advantage compensate for juvenile mortality disadvantage when parasitoids develop in unnatural invasive hosts?


The quality of hosts for a parasitoid wasp may be influenced by attributes such as host size or species, with high quality for successful development usually coincident with high quality for larger offspring. This is not always the case: for the Scelionid wasp Trissolcus basalis, oviposition in eggs of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, rather than of the normal host, the Southern Green Stink Bug, Nezara viridula, leads to lower offspring survival, but survivors can be unusually large. Adult female T. basalis engage in contests for host access. As larger contestants are typically favoured in contests between parasitoids, the larger size of surviving offspring may compensate for the mortality of others. We construct a general game-theoretic model to explore whether size advantage can sustain a maternal preference to utilize a more deadly host species. We find that size advantage alone is unlikely to sustain a shift in host preference, yet such an outcome is possible when size asymmetries act simultaneously with advantages in host possession (ownership effect). Halyomorpha halys is an invasive pest of major agro-economic importance in Europe and the Americas, and use of its eggs as hosts by native parasitoids such as T. basalis has been seen as an evolutionary trap due to their high developmental mortality. Our model suggests that the recently discovered effect of host choice on offspring size may provide an escape from the trap via effects on contest biology of T. basalis which could foster a more stable association with H. halys. An evolutionary shift in the reproductive value of H. halys could increase the efficiency of T. basalis as a biological control agent of this invasive stink bug pest.