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. https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/aru128