Wasp Numbers in Honeydew Beech Forest
Vespula wasps are most abundant in beech forests of the South Island, which are naturally infested with endemic scale insects that produce ‘honeydew’ (Beggs 2001).
Honeydew is produced by a native scale insect (similar to an aphid). The insect inserts its mouth-parts into the trunk of the beech tree to feed on the trees sap. The excess sap passes through the gut of the scale insect and forms a sugary droplet at the end of the insect. Wasps collect these droplets for food.
Wasps are able to carry loads of about 15 microlitres of honeydew at a time.
The honeydew-producing scale insects provide an energy-rich food resource for Vespula wasps. Wasps reduce the standing crop of honeydew by more than 90% for 5 months of the year and so compete with native species and honeybees that also consume honeydew (Beggs 2001).
Densities of wasps in these forests are typically 8–34 nests/ha (average 12/ha; Barlow et al. 2002). At their peak, there is an average biomass of 3.8 kg of wasps/ha (10 000 worker wasps/ha), which is greater than the combined biomass of birds and exotic rodents/mustelids (Thomas et al. 1990).
Wasps can affect nutrient cycling in the honeydew beech forest community by reducing the flow of carbon to micro-organisms in the phyllosphere and the soil, ultimately this could affect soil solution chemistry.