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Generalist predator guilds play a prominent role in structuring insect communities and can contribute to limiting population sizes of insect pest species. A consequence of dietary breadth, particularly in predatory insects, is the inclusion of low-quality, or even toxic, prey items in the predator's diet. Consumption of low-quality prey items reduces growth, development, and survival of predator larvae, thereby reducing the population sizes of generalist predators. The objective of this paper was to examine the effect of a suspected low-quality aphid species, Aphis fabae (Scopoli) (Hemiptera: Aphididae), on the larval performance of an abundant North American predator, Hippodamia convergens (Guérin-Méneville) (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae). For comparison, H. convergens larvae were also reared on a known high-quality aphid species Acyrthosiphon pisum (Harris) (Hemiptera: Aphididae) and on a 50:50 mix of both aphid species. The proportion of H. convergens larvae surviving to the adult stage was dramatically lower (0.13) on the A. fabae diet than on the A. pisum diet (0.70); survival on the mixed diet was intermediate (0.45) to survival on the single-species diets. Similarly, surviving H. convergens larvae also developed more slowly and weighed less as adults on the A. fabae diet than on the A. pisum diet. Despite the relatively poor performance on the A. fabae diet, H. convergens larvae killed large numbers of A. fabae. Furthermore, H. convergens displayed a preference for A. fabae in the mixed diet treatment, most likely because A. fabae was easier to catch than A. pisum. The results suggest that increases in the distribution and abundance of A. fabae in North America may have negative effects on H. convergens population size.
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