Project description

In a host-parasite relationship, finding the host is a key step influencing the parasitoid’s fitness. A large portion of a female parasitoid’s life span is spent in searching for hosts. During this foraging period, the females use various cues to help her decide where and for how long to search at different locations. Host location and host acceptance in parasitic wasps has received a lot of research attention, leading to the identification of stimuli and the characterization of behavioral responses.

Parasitic wasps use a wide range of stimuli to find their hosts. Olfactory and visual, in particular, have been well studied. However, there is growing evidence that parasitoids also use host-related vibrations to locate their hosts. Nonetheless, reported descriptions of the behavior of parasitoids as they approach their hosts are generally not sufficient to give a clear indication of the role of vibrations.

The student will conduct behavioral observations on host search behavior in parasitic wasps (parasitoids of Spodoptera exigua larvae). Experimental techniques will be used to determine the role of vibrations in host location.

Cotesia marginiventris (parasitoid) on a corn leaf, and Spodoptera caterpillar (host) Photo credit: Astrid T. Williner

Cotesia marginiventris (parasitoid) on a corn leaf,
and Spodoptera caterpillar (host)
Photo credit: Astrid T. Williner

Project Goal

Determine whether vibrations play a role in host searching and location in a range of parasitoid species.

Student responsibilities

  • Carry out experiments/observations independently
  • Analyze the collected data and write a report
  • Assist in the rearing and maintenance of animal and plant cultures

Location and timeframe

This project will be carried out at the VU-Amsterdam (Animal Ecology Labs).
Starting date is flexible between the months of January and February 2017. Applications are now open.

Supervision and information

Estefania Velilla, Msc (room M-122, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam):
Dr. Wouter Halfwerk (room H-142, W&N building, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam):

Suggested reading

  • Blickley, J. L., Blackwood, D., & Patricelli, G. L. (2012). Experimental evidence for the effects of chronic anthropogenic noise on abundance of greater sage‐grouse at leks. Conservation Biology, 26(3), 461-471
  • Costello, R. A., & Symes, L. B. (2014). Effects of anthropogenic noise on male signalling behaviour and female phonotaxis in Oecanthus tree crickets. Animal Behaviour, 95, 15-22.
  • Kunc HP, Lyons GN, Sigwart JD, McLaughlin KE, Houghton JDR (2014) Anthropogenic noise affects behavior across sensory modalities. The American Naturalist 184(4): E93-E100.
  • Siemers, B. M., & Schaub, A. (2011). Hunting at the highway: traffic noise reduces foraging efficiency in acoustic predators. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 278(1712), 1646-1652.
  • Vilar, J. M., & Solé, R. V. (1998). Effects of noise in symmetric two-species competition. Physical review letters, 80(18), 4099.