Hymenopteran Parasitoid Diversity & Tri-Trophic Interactions: the Effects of Habitat Fragmentation in Wellington, New Zealand
Habitat fragmentation and the resulting decline in biodiversity through the loss of habitat are thought to be the main threat to insect extinctions. According to the trophic level hypothesis, habitat fragmentation affects parasitoids more severely than their herbivorous hosts. Parasitoids also may be correlated with plant species richness, because plants host a variety of phytophagous insects acting as hosts for parasitoids, or plants provide food or act as shelter for parasitoids. In this study, the effects of the forest fragment properties; area, isolation, percentage of residential area surrounding focal fragments and plant richness on parasitic wasps and their interactions were examined. These fragmentation effects were examined in 10 urban native bush remnants in the Wellington and Hutt Valley region of the lower North Island, New Zealand. Fragmentation effects on species abundance, richness and diversity and on community assemblages were examined for the wasp families Ichneumonidae, Pompilidae and Proctotrupidae. Correlations between beta diversity of the plant community and the parasitoid community were analysed and the study investigated whether individual parasitoid occurrences can be predicted by the range of their host's host plants. This study focused on interactions between the kawakawa moth larva Cleora scriptaria, its primary host plant Macropiper excelsum and the parasitism rates by two parasitoids Aleiodes declanae (an endemic species) and Meteorus pulchricornis (an exotic species) and the herbivory caused by C. scriptaria larvae. In addition to interaction responses to forest fragmentation properties, interaction responses were also examined with respect to the properties of the plot and individual plant. Individual species showed different trends in response to the fragmentation properties, making interpretation of a general community response difficult. The abundance, richness and diversity of small-bodied parasitoids were inversely related to increasing area and plant species richness. Parasitoid community composition changed with fragment isolation and plant species richness. Ichneumonidae strongly responded to isolation in one year, whereas the Pompilidae responded to plant species richness. The Proctotrupidae community structure showed no response to any of the fragmentation properties. Correlations between plant and parasitoid community structures were not significant and individual parasitoid-plant associations were weak and inconclusive. Parasitism rates for A. declanae were significantly higher in more isolated fragments with smaller trees, and were negatively affected by overall parasitism rates, more so in isolated fragments. Parasitism rates by M. pulchricornis responded positively to larval densities and declined with increasing plant richness. Herbivory was positively related to the abundance of M. excelsum, tree size and larval density. The current study provides evidence that the forest fragment properties examined are, on their own, not always sufficient predictors of community structure and interactions for parasitoids. Aspects of the results from this thesis conflict with the trophic-level hypothesis with species responding in a negative or positive way, or not responding at all to forest fragmentation effects. The findings of this thesis support to conserving species diversity by maintaining and enhancing all types of existing forest fragments to prevent species extinctions.