Sugar feeding by biological control agents, such as parasitoid wasps, may enhance their ability to control crop pests, although its importance is likely to vary greatly through space and time. Here we quantified temporal variation in the potential importance of sugar resources associated with honeydew secreted by the pea aphid (Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris) (Hemiptera: Aphididae)) in determining levels of parasitism of the alfalfa weevil (Hypera postica (Gyllenhal) (Coleoptera: Curculionidae)) by its dominant parasitoid, Bathyplectes curculionis (Thomson) (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae) across irrigated alfalfa fields in Montana, United States over 5 yr. A positive association between parasitism of H. postica and A. pisum densities at the across-site scale was observed in 2 of 5 yr, with parasitism increasing twofold to fourfold over gradients in A. pisum density. The relationship was strongest in the 2 yr of lowest parasitoid relative to host densities, when increases in per capita effects of individual parasitoids would be expected to be particularly important. Acyrthosiphon pisum densities were at their lowest in these same years, suggesting that they may generally be sufficiently abundant that parasitoids are not limited by sugars in most years. This conclusion is supported by results of anthrone tests which revealed a high level of sugar-fed parasitoids (>50%) in a year of high aphid abundance. More studies, such as this one, that explore the frequency with which increasing sugar resource availability actually enhances parasitism levels in the field will be critical to gauge the broader potential of sugar resource addition (e.g., through flowering strips, banker plants or sugar sprays) to bolster biological control.
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Vol. 48 • No. 1