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Thrips domiciles protect larvae from desiccation in an arid environment

Gilbert, James D.J.


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Dr James Gilbert
Lecturer in Zoology/ Deputy Programme Leader, Zoology


Desiccation is a particular risk for small animals in arid environments. In response, many organisms “construct niches,” favorable microenvironments where they spend part or all of their life cycle. Some maintain such environments for their offspring via parental care. Insect eggs are often protected from desiccation by parentally derived gels, casings, or cocoons, but active parental protection of offspring from desiccation has never been demonstrated. Most free-living thrips (Thysanoptera) alleviate water loss via thigmotaxis (crevice seeking). In arid Australia, Acacia thrips (Phlaeothripidae) construct many kinds of niche. Some thrips induce galls; others, like Dunatothrips aneurae, live and breed within “domiciles” made from loosely glued phyllodes. The function of domiciles is unknown; like other constructed niches, they may 1) create favorable microenvironments, 2) facilitate feeding, 3) protect from enemies, or a combination. To test the first 2 alternatives experimentally, field-collected domiciles were destroyed or left intact. Seven-day survival of feeding and nonfeeding larval stages was monitored at high (70–80%) or low (8–10%, approximately ambient) humidity. Regardless of humidity, most individuals survived in intact domiciles, whereas for destroyed domiciles, survival depended on humidity, suggesting parents construct and maintain domiciles to prevent offspring desiccating. Feeding and nonfeeding larvae had similar survival patterns, suggesting the domicile’s role is not nutritional. Outside domiciles, survival at “high” humidity was intermediate, suggesting very high humidity requirements, or energetic costs of wandering outside domiciles. D. aneurae commonly cofound domiciles; cofoundresses may benefit both from shared nestbuilding costs, and from “deferred byproduct mutualism,” that is, backup parental care in case of mortality.


Gilbert, J. D. (2014). Thrips domiciles protect larvae from desiccation in an arid environment. Behavioral ecology, 25(6), 1338-1346.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 14, 2014
Online Publication Date Aug 5, 2014
Publication Date Jan 1, 2014
Deposit Date Apr 27, 2016
Publicly Available Date Apr 27, 2016
Journal Behavioral ecology
Print ISSN 1045-2249
Electronic ISSN 1465-7279
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 25
Issue 6
Pages 1338-1346
Keywords Thrips, Cooperative breeding, Humidity, Moisture, Nestbuilding, Niche construction, Parental investment, Sociality, Water balance
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Additional Information Copy of article first published in: Behavioral ecology, 2014, v.25, issue 6.


Published article.pdf (13.7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology.<br /> This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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