Despite the vast diversity of parasitic insects and their importance in natural and agricultural communities, our knowledge of what determines their patterns of association with hosts remains sparse. Unlike most parasites that tend to be specialized, parasitoid flies in the family Tachinidae exhibit a broad spectrum of host-specificity, with many species attacking a wide range of hosts. This variability in host-specificity makes them a useful model for examining the ecological and historical factors that determine host associations. We analyzed data collected from a 5-year rearing program of Lepidoptera in southern Arizona to investigate the factors that influence tachinid-host associations. After controlling for a strong effect of sample size, a significant portion of the remaining variance in host range was explained by differences among phylogenetic groups of tachinids and/or their correlated reproductive strategies. Relatively specialized tachinids tended to be associated with monophagous or narrowly oligophagous hosts and attacked them at relatively high frequencies, a pattern we suggest is related to host location efficiency. Cluster analysis indicated that host abundance, gregariousness, food-plant type, and morphology are all important determinants of tachinid host use. Little concordance was found between how tachinid species cluster according to characteristics of their hosts and their estimated phylogenetic relationships. Together, the results of this study suggest that ecological factors are important determinants of host use in these parasitoids and although phylogenetic history may influence the range of hosts used, its power to explain the ecological or taxonomic character of hosts used appears limited.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/john_stireman/29/