Many animals exhibit variation in resistance to specific natural enemies. Such variation may be encoded in their genomes or derived from infection with protective symbionts. The pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum, for example, exhibits tremendous variation in susceptibility to a common natural enemy, the parasitic wasp Aphidius ervi. Pea aphids are often infected with the heritable bacterial symbiont, Hamiltonella defensa, which confers partial to complete resistance against this parasitoid depending on bacterial strain and associated bacteriophages. That previous studies found that pea aphids without H. defensa (or other symbionts) were generally susceptible to parasitism, together with observations of a limited encapsulation response, suggested that pea aphids largely rely on infection with H. defensa for protection against parasitoids. However, the limited number of uninfected clones previously examined, and our recent report of two symbiont-free resistant clones, led us to explicitly examine aphid-encoded variability in resistance to parasitoids.
After rigorous screening for known and unknown symbionts, and microsatellite genotyping to confirm clonal identity, we conducted parasitism assays using fifteen clonal pea aphid lines. We recovered significant variability in aphid-encoded resistance, with variation levels comparable to that contributed by H. defensa. Because resistance can be costly, we also measured aphid longevity and cumulative fecundity of the most and least resistant aphid lines under permissive conditions, but found no trade-offs between higher resistance and these fitness parameters.
These results indicate that pea aphid resistance to A. ervi is more complex than previously appreciated, and that aphids employ multiple tactics to aid in their defense. While we did not detect a tradeoff, these may become apparent under stressful conditions or when resistant and susceptible aphids are in direct competition. Understanding sources and amounts of variation in resistance to natural enemies is necessary to understand the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of antagonistic interactions, such as the potential for coevolution, but also for the successful management of pest populations through biological control.||