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Open Access Research article

Inter-annual variation in prevalence and intensity of mite parasitism relates to appearance and expression of damselfly resistance

Laura Nagel*, Tonia Robb and Mark R Forbes

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada

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BMC Ecology 2010, 10:5  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-10-5

Published: 14 February 2010

Abstract

Background

Insects can resist parasites using the costly process of melanotic encapsulation. This form of physiological resistance has been studied under laboratory conditions, but the abiotic and biotic factors affecting resistance in natural insect populations are not well understood. Mite parasitism of damselflies was studied in a temperate damselfly population over seven seasons to determine if melanotic encapsulation of mite feeding tubes was related to degree of parasitism, host sex, host size, emergence timing, duration of the emergence period, and average daily air temperature.

Results

Although parasite prevalence in newly emerged damselflies was > 77% each year, hosts did not resist mites in the early years of study. Resistance began the year that there was a dramatic increase in the number of mites on newly emerged damselflies. Resistance continued to be correlated with mite prevalence and intensity throughout the seven-year study. However, the percentage of hosts resisting only ranged from 0-13% among years and resistance was not sex-biased and was not correlated with host size. Resistance also was not correlated with air temperature or with timing or duration of damselfly emergence.

Conclusions

Resistance in host damselflies was weakly and variably expressed over the study period. Factors such as temperature, which have been identified in laboratory studies as contributing to resistance by similar hosts, can be irrelevant in natural populations. This lack of temperature effect may be due to the narrow range in temperatures observed at host emergence among years. Degree of mite parasitism predicted both the appearance and continued expression of resistance among parasitized damselflies.