Changing host plants causes structural differences in the parasitoid complex of the monophagous moth Yponomeuta evonymella, but does not improve survival rate.
Recently in Poland, cases of host expansion have frequently been observed in the typically monophagous bird-cherry ermine moth (Yponomeuta evonymella), which has moved from its native host plant, bird cherry (Prunus padus), to a new, widely distributed plant that is invasive in Europe, black cherry (P. serotina). We attempted to verify the reasons behind this host change in the context of the enemy-free space hypothesis by focusing on parasitoids attacking larval Y. evonymella on one of three host plant variants: The primary host, P. padus; initially P. padus and later P. serotina (P. padus/P. serotina); or the new host, P. serotina. This experiment investigated if changing the host plant could be beneficial to Y. evonymella in terms of escaping from harmful parasitoids and improving survival rate. We identified nine species of parasitoids that attack larval Y. evonymella, and we found that the number of parasitoid species showed a downward trend from the primary host plant to the P. padus/P. serotina combination to the new host plant alone. We observed a significant difference among variants in relation to the percentage of cocoons killed by specific parasitoids, but no effects of non-specific parasitoids or other factors. Total mortality did not significantly differ (ca. 37%) among larval rearing variants. Changing the host plant caused differences in the structure of the parasitoid complex of Y. evonymella but did not improve its survival rate. This study does not indicate that the host expansion of Y. evonymella is associated with the enemy-free space hypothesis; we therefore discuss alternative scenarios that may be more likely.