Third and fourth trophic level composition shift in an aphid-parasitoid-hyperparasitoid food web limits aphid control in an intercropping system.
Understanding how resource diversification affects ecological interactions, food web structure and ecosystem functioning is essential in both fundamental and applied ecology. While plant diversification strategies (either in-field or around-field) are often proposed in agricultural landscapes as practices to improve the biological control of herbivores by natural enemies, results remain variable and unsure. Here, we studied the effect of an in-field diversification practice (the intercropping of leguminous crops within cereal fields, an increasingly common practice but with inconsistent results on biological control) on cereal aphid control and the structure of a cereal aphid-parasitoid-hyperparasitoid food web for 2 years. We report that aphid control was not increased in mixed fields, nor was cereal parasitoid diversity and food web complexity. Nevertheless, the provision of alternative hosts in mixed fields led to a functional community composition shift, favouring generalist parasitoid species over specialist ones. Moreover, we observed a higher hyperparasitism rate in mixed fields, suggesting that secondary parasitoids were favoured by alternative resources, which may have disrupted aphid control by primary parasitoids. Synthesis and applications. This study demonstrates that parasitoid community composition shift and increased top-down control by the fourth trophic level can impact parasitoid efficiency to control herbivores. These results highlight the necessity to study fine-scale mechanisms within food webs to be able to set up efficient methods to support biodiversity and associated ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes.