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Metabolomics and contest behaviour in parasitoid wasps

Final Report Summary - WASP FIGHTS (Metabolomics and contest behaviour in parasitoid wasps)

Animal contests are widely studied by behavioural ecologists and there is a well-developed framework for evaluating their functional significance. Parasitoid wasps in the family Bethylidae have proven ideal organisms to test predictive models (all of the predicted major influences on contest outcome-fighting ability, prior ownership and the way that individuals value possession of the contested resource - have now been successfully explored) and also in linking contests to other areas of basic (e.g. clutch size) and applied (e.g. biological pest control) areas of animal behaviour study. Parasitoids generally feed on diverse food sources (nectar and their hosts) and their influence on contest behaviour and outcome has not been assessed before. The general purpose of the project was to link nutritional/physiological state and contest behaviour and outcome and to assess the cost of fighting behaviour as influenced by nutritional state. Specifically we sought to:
1) Identify and manipulate key parasitoid nutrients and their developmental and temporal dynamics using metabolomics tools.
2) Investigate effects of selected nutrients on RHP & RV asymmetries during parasitoid contests.
3) Assess the energetic costs of fighting.

It is expected that particular nutrients may affect contest ability (termed Resource Holding Potential) whereas others may influence the value of the resource to a contestant. I used LC-MS and NMR based metabolomics to assess the effects of multiple diets on parasitoid physiological status via high throughput metabolite profiling and then I observed staged contests between wasps fed on different diets. Specifically I explored the role of carbohydrates rich (e.g. honey) and to lesser degree protein rich (yeasts) diets.

My results suggest that parasitoid contest behaviour is relatively weakly influenced by their diet and also that the effects that diet has are on asymmetries related to resource value rather those related to resource holding potential. Generally this project sets a framework for exploring the effects of physiological/metabolic status on animal contests by establishing the necessary methodology (use of metabolomics and behavioural observations). Furthermore, as part of the project I developed methodology (LC-MS and NMR based metabolomics) for metabolite profiling of individual parasitoid wasps which also provides tools not only for further physiological and ecological studies but also has implications for their use in biological pest control.