A window of opportunity: Subdominant predators can use suboptimal prey

Kelly A. Jackson, Joshua S. McCord, Jennifer A. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Introduced species have been linked to declines of native species through mechanisms including intraguild predation and exploitative competition. However, coexistence among species may be promoted by niche partitioning if native species can use resources that the invasive species cannot. Previous research has shown that some strains of the aphid Aphis craccivora are toxic to a competitively dominant invasive lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis. Our objective was to investigate whether these aphids might be an exploitable resource for other, subdominant, lady beetle species. We compared larval development rate, survival, and adult weight of five lady beetle species in no-choice experiments with two different strains of A. craccivora, one of which is toxic to H. axyridis and one that is nontoxic. Two lady beetle species, Cycloneda munda and Coleomegilla maculata, were able to complete larval development when feeding on the aphid strain that is toxic to H. axyridis, experiencing only slight developmental delays relative to beetles feeding on the other aphid strain. One species, Coccinella septempunctata, also was able to complete larval development, but experienced a slight reduction in adult weight. The other two lady beetle species, Hippodamia convergens and Anatis labiculata, demonstrated generally low survivorship when consuming A. craccivora, regardless of aphid strain. All five species showed increased survival and/or development relative to H. axyridis on the “toxic” aphid strain. Our results suggest that this toxic trait may act as a narrow-spectrum defense for the aphids, providing protection against only some lady beetle enemies. For other less-susceptible lady beetles, these aphids have the potential to provide competitive release from the otherwise dominant H. axyridis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5269-5275
Number of pages7
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank A. Dehnel, B. Griffis, T. Hansen, M. Rogers, M. Reams, A. Styer for technical assistance, P. Lenhart for creating some of the lady beetle icons in the figures and P. Lenhart and L. Rosenwald for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This research was supported by grants from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (Hatch No. 0224651 and USDA-AFRI No. 2014-67013-21576), and the University of Kentucky. This is publication 17-08-044 of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station and is published with the approval of the Director.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Coccinellidae
  • cowpea aphid
  • exploitative competition
  • generalist predators
  • invasive species
  • niche partitioning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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