Complex-to-predict generational shift between nested and clustered organization of individual prey networks in digger wasps

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Although diet has traditionally been considered to be a property of the species or populations as a whole, there is nowadays extensive knowledge that individual specialization is widespread among animal populations. Nevertheless, the factors determining the shape of interactions within food webs remain largely undiscovered, especially in predatory insects. We used an aggregation of the digger wasp Bembix merceti to 1) analyse patterns of individual prey use across three flying seasons in a network-based context; and 2) test the effect of four potential factors that might explain network topologies (wasp mass, nest spatial distribution, simultaneous nest-provisioning, prey availability). Inter-individual diet variation was found in all three years, under different predator-prey network topologies: Individuals arranged in dietary clusters and displayed a checkerboard pattern in 2009, but showed nestedness in 2008 and 2010. Network topologies were not fully explained by the tested factors. Larger females consumed a higher proportion of the total number of prey species captured by the population as a whole, in such a way that nested patterns may arise from mass-dependent prey spectrum width. Conversely, individuals with similar body mass didn't form clusters. Nested patterns seemed to be associated with a greater availability of the main prey species (a proxy for reduced intra-specific competition). Thus, according with theory, clusters seemed to appear when competition increased. On the other hand, the nests of the individuals belonging to a given cluster were not more closely located, and neither did individuals within a cluster provision their nests simultaneously. Thus, a female-female copying behaviour during foraging was unlikely. In conclusion, wasp populations can maintain a considerable individual variation across years under different food web organizations. The tested factors only partially accounted for the shift in network properties, and new analyses should be carried out to elucidate how diet network topologies arise in wasp populations. © 2014 Ballesteros et al.




Ballesteros, Y., Polidori, C., Tormos, J., Baños-Picón, L., & Asís, J. D. (2014). Complex-to-predict generational shift between nested and clustered organization of individual prey networks in digger wasps. PLoS ONE, 9(7).

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