The project will determine whether the creation of new species provides an opportunity for other organisms to take advantage of this and speciate in kind. In particular, the research will test whether when fruit flies of the genus Rhagoletis speciate by shifting and attacking new host plants, the parasitic wasps that attack the flies also speciate by following the flies and specializing on the new fly resources. The question is important for understanding nature because there are more species of plant eating insects like Rhagoletis and the parasites that attack them than any other types of life forms on Earth. Thus, understanding whether speciation has rippling effects through ecosystems to sequentially amplify the creation of new species has important implications for understanding the basis for biodiversity.
In addition to helping integrate science training, education, and research activities at the local, university, and international levels, the project also has practical benefits for U.S. agriculture. Rhagoletis flies are serious pests of apples, cherries, blueberries, and several other economic crops. The question of whether the fly's parasitoids have formed new species, therefore, has important repercussions for developing effective integrated pest management strategies. Specifically, if different wasp species attack each fly, then biocontrol efforts would need to rear and release each of the wasps separately to control each of the fly pests. In contrast, if the wasps are all part of the same population, then a one-size-fits-all strategy focused on mass release of a single cultured wasp strain may succeed.