Predator depletion on Cape Cod (USA) has released the herbivorous crab Sesarmareticulatum from predator control leading to the loss of cordgrass from salt marsh creek banks. After more than three decades of die-off, cordgrass is recovering at heavily damaged sites coincident with the invasion of green crabs (Carcinusmaenas) into intertidal Sesarma burrows. We hypothesized that Carcinus is dependent on Sesarma burrows for refuge from physical and biotic stress in the salt marsh intertidal and reduces Sesarma functional density and herbivory through consumptive and non-consumptive effects, mediated by both visual and olfactory cues. Our results reveal that in the intertidal zone of New England salt marshes, Carcinus are burrow dependent, Carcinus reduce Sesarma functional density and herbivory in die-off areas and Sesarma exhibit a generic avoidance response to large, predatory crustaceans. These results support recent suggestions that invasive Carcinus are playing a role in the recovery of New England salt marshes and assertions that invasive species can play positive roles outside of their native ranges.
Although consumers can strongly influence community recovery from disturbance, few studies have explored the effects of consumer identity and density and how they may vary across abiotic gradients. On rocky shores in Maine, recent experiments suggest that recovery of plant- or animal- dominated community states is governed by rates of water movement and consumer pressure. To further elucidate the mechanisms of consumer control, we examined the species-specific and density-dependent effects of rocky shore consumers (crabs and snails) on community recovery under both high (mussel dominated) and low flow (plant dominated) conditions. By partitioning the direct impacts of predators (crabs) and grazers (snails) on community recovery across a flow gradient, we found that grazers, but not predators, are likely the primary agent of consumer control and that their impact is highly non-linear. Manipulating snail densities revealed that herbivorous and bull-dozing snails (Littorina littorea) alone can control recovery of high and low flow communities. After ∼1.5 years of recovery, snail density explained a significant amount of the variation in macroalgal coverage at low flow sites and also mussel recovery at high flow sites. These density-dependent grazer effects were were both non-linear and flow-dependent, with low abundance thresholds needed to suppress plant community recovery, and much higher levels needed to control mussel bed development. Our study suggests that consumer density and identity are key in regulating both plant and animal community recovery and that physical conditions can determine the functional forms of these consumer effects.
Predators can influence prey abundance and traits by direct consumption, as well as by non-consumptive effects of visual, olfactory, or tactile cues. The strength of these non-consumptive effects (NCEs) can be influenced by a variety of factors, including predator foraging mode, temporal variation in predator cues, and the density of competing prey. Testing the relative importance of these factors for determining NCEs is critical to our understanding of predator-prey interactions in a variety of settings. We addressed this knowledge gap by conducting two mesocosm experiments in a tri-trophic intertidal oyster reef food web. More specifically, we tested how a predatory fish (hardhead catfish, Ariopsis felis) directly influenced their prey (mud crabs, Panopeus spp.) and indirectly affected basal resources (juvenile oysters, Crassostrea virginica), as well as whether these direct and indirect effects changed across a density gradient of competing prey. Per capita crab foraging rates were inversely influenced by crab density, but they were not affected by water-borne predator cues. As a result, direct consumptive effects on prey foraging rates were stronger than non-consumptive effects. In contrast, predator cue and crab density interactively influenced indirect predator effects on oyster mortality in two experiments, with trait-mediated and density-mediated effects of similar magnitude operating to enhance oyster abundance. Consistent differences between a variable predator cue environment and other predator cue treatments (no cue and constant cue) suggests that an understanding of the natural risk environment experienced by prey is critical to testing and interpreting trait-mediated indirect interactions. Further, the prey response to the risk environment may be highly dependent on prey density, particularly in prey populations with strong intra-specific interactions.
Salt marsh die-off is a Western Atlantic conservation problem that has recently spread into Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, USA. It has been hypothesized to be driven by: 1) eutrophication decreasing plant investment into belowground biomass causing plant collapse, 2) boat wakes eroding creek banks, 3) pollution or disease affecting plant health, 4) substrate hardness controlling herbivorous crab distributions and 5) trophic dysfunction releasing herbivorous crabs from predator control. To distinguish between these hypotheses we quantified these variables at 14 Narragansett Bay salt marshes where die-off intensity ranged from <5% to nearly 98%. Nitrogen availability, wave intensity and plant growth did not explain any variation in die-off. Herbivory explained 73% of inter-site variation in die-off and predator control of herbivores and substrate hardness also varied significantly with die-off. This suggests that salt marsh die-off is being largely driven by intense herbivory via the release of herbivorous crabs from predator control. Our results and those from other marsh systems suggest that consumer control may not simply be a factor to consider in marsh conservation, but with widespread predator depletion impacting near shore habitats globally, trophic dysfunction and runaway consumption may be the largest and most urgent management challenge for salt marsh conservation.
Predators can affect prey populations and, via trophic cascades, predators can indirectly impact resource populations (2 trophic levels below the predator) through consumption of prey (density-mediated indirect effects; DMIEs) and by inducing predator-avoidance behavior in prey (trait-mediated indirect effects; TMIEs). Prey often employ multiple predator-avoidance behaviors, such as dispersal or reduced foraging activity, but estimates of TMIEs are usually on individual behaviors. We assessed direct and indirect predator effects in a mesocosm experiment using a marine food chain consisting of a predator (toadfish – Opsanus tau), prey (mud crab - Panopeus herbstii) and resource (ribbed mussel – Geukensia demissa). We measured dispersal and foraging activity of prey separately by manipulating both the presence and absence of the predator, and whether prey could or could not disperse into a predator-free area. Consumption of prey was 9 times greater when prey could not disperse, probably because mesocosm boundaries increased predator capture success. Although predator presence did not significantly affect the number of crabs that emigrated, the presence of a predator decreased resource consumption by prey, which resulted in fewer resources consumed for each prey that emigrated in the presence of a predator, and reduced the overall TMIE. When prey were unable to disperse, TMIEs on mussel survival were 3 times higher than the DMIEs. When prey were allowed to disperse, the TMIEs on resource survival increased to 11-times the DMIEs. We found that restricting the ability of prey to disperse, or focusing on only one predator-avoidance behavior, may be underestimating TMIEs. Our results indicate that the relative contribution of behavior and consumption in food chain dynamics will depend on which predator-avoidance behaviors are allowed to occur and measured.
Several influential hypotheses in plant-herbivore and herbivore-predator interactions consider the interactive effects of plant quality, herbivore diet breadth, and predation on herbivore performance. Yet individually and collectively, these hypotheses fail to address the simultaneous influence of all three factors. Here we review existing hypotheses, and propose the tri-trophic interactions (TTI) hypothesis to consolidate and integrate their predictions. The TTI hypothesis predicts that dietary specialist herbivores (as compared to generalists) should escape predators and be competitively dominant due to faster growth rates, and that such differences should be greater on low quality (as compared to high quality) host plants. To provide a preliminary test of these predictions, we conducted an empirical study comparing the effects of plant (Baccharis salicifolia) quality and predators between a specialist (Uroleucon macolai) and a generalist (Aphis gossypii) aphid herbivore. Consistent with predictions, these three factors interactively determine herbivore performance in ways not addressed by existing hypotheses. Compared to the specialist, the generalist was less fecund, competitively inferior, and more sensitive to low plant quality. Correspondingly, predator effects were contingent upon plant quality only for the generalist. Contrary to predictions, predator effects were weaker for the generalist and on low-quality plants, likely due to density-dependent benefits provided to the generalist by mutualist ants. Because the TTI hypothesis predicts the superior performance of specialists, mutualist ants may be critical to A. gossypii persistence under competition from U. macolai. In summary, the integrative nature of the TTI hypothesis offers novel insight into the determinants of plant-herbivore and herbivore-predator interactions and the coexistence of specialist and generalist herbivores.
Despite the global vulnerability of predators to extinction, and the critical functional role they play in many ecosystems, there have been few realistic tests of the consequences of predator species deletion (conversely, predator diversity) in natural ecosystems. We performed a four-month field experiment in a southeastern United States salt marsh to test the role of predatory crab diversity in regulating populations of a keystone grazer that can decimate marsh vegetation at high densities. Our results revealed that a combination of this system's two resident predator species, in comparison to individual species, both stabilize and strengthen predation rates on the potent grazer. Monthly monitoring of predation rates from intense, hot summer months into the cooler autumn indicate this diversity benefit arises from predators responding differentially to changing environmental conditions across seasons. This study provides some of the first experimental field support for the insurance hypothesis from marine ecosystems, suggests that predator temporal complementarity may be more common than currently perceived, and argues for conservation of predator diversity to ensure reliable and effective control of potentially habitat-destroying grazers.
biodiversity; insurance hypothesis; temporal complementarity
Predators of pollinators can influence pollination services and plant fitness via both consumptive (reducing pollinator density) and non-consumptive (altering pollinator behaviour) effects. However, a better knowledge of the mechanisms underlying behaviourally mediated indirect effects of predators is necessary to properly understand their role in community dynamics. We used the tripartite relationship between bumblebees, predatory crab spiders and flowers to ask whether behaviourally mediated effects are localized to flowers harbouring predators, or whether bees extend their avoidance to entire plant species. In a tightly controlled laboratory environment, bumblebees (Bombus terrestris) were exposed to a random mixture of equally rewarding yellow and white artificial flowers, but foraging on yellow flowers was very risky: bees had a 25 per cent chance of receiving a simulated predation attempt by ‘robotic’ crab spiders. As bees learnt to avoid ‘dangerous’ flowers, their foraging preferences changed and they began to visit fewer yellow flowers than expected by chance. Bees avoided spider-free yellow flowers as well as dangerous yellow flowers when spiders were more difficult to detect (the colour of yellow spiders was indistinguishable from that of yellow flowers). Therefore, this interaction between bee learning and predator crypsis could lead flower species harbouring cryptic predators to suffer from reduced reproductive success.
avoidance learning; Bombus terrestris; crab spider; foraging preferences; pollinator behaviour
Although chemical predator cues often lead to changes in the anti-predator behavior of animal prey, it is not clear whether non-volatile herbivore kairomones (i.e. incidental chemical cues produced by herbivore movement or metabolism but not produced by an attack) trigger the induction of defense in plants prior to attack. I found that unwounded plants (Brassica nigra) that were regularly exposed to kairomones from snails (mucus and feces produced during movement of Helix aspersa) subsequently experienced reduced rates of attack by snails, unlike unwounded plants that received only one initial early exposure to snail kairomones. A follow-up experiment found that mucus alone did not affect snail feeding on previously harvested B. oleracea leaves, suggesting that changes in herbivory on B. nigra were due to changes in plant quality. The finding that chemicals associated with herbivores leads to changes in palatability of unwounded plants suggests that plants eavesdrop on components of non-volatile kairomones of their snail herbivores. Moreover, this work shows that the nature of plant exposure matters, supporting the conclusion that plants that have not been attacked or wounded nonetheless tailor their use of defenses based on incidental chemical information associated with herbivores and the timing with which cues of potential attack are encountered.
Grazing mortality of the marine phytoplankton Synechococcus is dominated by planktonic protists, yet rates of consumption and factors regulating grazer-Synechococcus interactions are poorly understood. One aspect of predator-prey interactions for which little is known are the mechanisms by which Synechococcus avoids or resists predation and, in turn, how this relates to the ability of Synechococcus to support growth of protist grazer populations. Grazing experiments conducted with the raptorial dinoflagellate Oxyrrhis marina and phylogenetically diverse Synechococcus isolates (strains WH8102, CC9605, CC9311, and CC9902) revealed marked differences in grazing rates—specifically that WH8102 was grazed at significantly lower rates than all other isolates. Additional experiments using the heterotrophic nanoflagellate Goniomonas pacifica and the filter-feeding tintinnid ciliate Eutintinnis sp. revealed that this pattern in grazing susceptibility among the isolates transcended feeding guilds and grazer taxon. Synechococcus cell size, elemental ratios, and motility were not able to explain differences in grazing rates, indicating that other features play a primary role in grazing resistance. Growth of heterotrophic protists was poorly coupled to prey ingestion and was influenced by the strain of Synechococcus being consumed. Although Synechococcus was generally a poor-quality food source, it tended to support higher growth and survival of G. pacifica and O. marina relative to Eutintinnis sp., indicating that suitability of Synechococcus varies among grazer taxa and may be a more suitable food source for the smaller protist grazers. This work has developed tractable model systems for further studies of grazer-Synechococcus interactions in marine microbial food webs.
We examine the effect of adaptive foraging behaviour within a tri-trophic food web with intra-guild predation. The intra-guild prey is allowed to adjust its foraging effort so as to achieve an optimal per capita growth rate in the face of realized feeding, predation risk and foraging cost. Adaptive fitness-seeking behaviour of the intra-guild prey has a stabilizing effect on the tri-trophic food-web dynamics provided that (i) a finite optimal foraging effort exists and (ii) the trophic transfer efficiency from resource to predator via the intra-guild prey is greater than that from the resource directly. The latter condition is a general criterion for the feasibility of intra-guild predation as a trophic mode. Under these conditions, we demonstrate rigorously that adaptive behaviour will always promote stability of community dynamics in the sense that the region of parameter space in which stability is achieved is larger than for the non-adaptive counterpart of the system.
adaptive behaviour; omnivory; intra-guild predation; ecosystem stability; trophic efficiency; foraging
The direct trophic links between mammalian herbivores and plant-dwelling insects have been practically ignored. Insects are ubiquitous on plants consumed by mammalian herbivores and are thus likely to face the danger of being incidentally ingested by a grazing mammal. A few studies have shown that some herbivorous hemipterans are able to avoid this peril by dropping to the ground upon detecting the heat and humidity on the mammal's breath. We hypothesized that if this risk affects the entire plant-dwelling insect community, other insects that share this habitat are expected to develop similar escape mechanisms. We assessed the ability of three species (adults and larvae) of coccinellid beetles, important aphid predators, to avoid incidental ingestion. Both larvae and adults were able to avoid incidental ingestion effectively by goats by dropping to the ground, demonstrating the importance of this behavior in grazed habitats. Remarkably, all adult beetles escaped by dropping off the plant and none used their functional wings to fly away. In controlled laboratory experiments, we found that human breath caused 60–80% of the beetles to drop. The most important component of mammalian herbivore breath in inducing adult beetles and larvae to drop was the combination of heat and humidity. The fact that the mechanism of dropping in response to mammalian breath developed in distinct insect orders and disparate life stages accentuates the importance of the direct influence of mammalian herbivores on plant-dwelling insects. This direct interaction should be given its due place when discussing trophic interactions.
Current plant – herbivore interaction models and experiments with mammalian herbivores grazing plant monocultures show the superiority of a maximizing forage quality strategy (MFQ) over a maximizing intake strategy (MI). However, there is a lack of evidence whether grazers comply with the model predictions under field conditions.
We assessed diet selection of sheep (Ovis aries) using plant functional traits in productive mesic vs. low-productivity dry species-rich grasslands dominated by resource-exploitative vs. resource-conservative species respectively. Each grassland type was studied in two replicates for two years. We investigated the first grazing cycle in a set of 288 plots with a diameter of 30 cm, i.e. the size of sheep feeding station. In mesic grasslands, high plot defoliation was associated with community weighted means of leaf traits referring to high forage quality, i.e. low leaf dry matter content (LDMC) and high specific leaf area (SLA), with a high proportion of legumes and the most with high community weighted mean of forage indicator value. In contrast in dry grasslands, high community weighted mean of canopy height, an estimate of forage quantity, was the best predictor of plot defoliation. Similar differences in selection on forage quality vs. quantity were detected within plots. Sheep selected plants with higher forage indicator values than the plot specific community weighted mean of forage indicator value in mesic grasslands whereas taller plants were selected in dry grasslands. However, at this scale sheep avoided legumes and plants with higher SLA, preferred plants with higher LDMC while grazing plants with higher forage indicator values in mesic grasslands.
Our findings indicate that MFQ appears superior over MI only in habitats with a predominance of resource-exploitative species. Furthermore, plant functional traits (LDMC, SLA, nitrogen fixer) seem to be helpful correlates of forage quality only at the community level.
Ecosystems are being altered on a global scale by the extirpation of top predators. The ecological effects of predator removal have been investigated widely; however, predator removal can also change natural selection acting on prey, resulting in contemporary evolution. Here we tested the role of predator removal on the contemporary evolution of trophic traits in prey. We utilized a historical introduction experiment where Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) were relocated from a site with predatory fishes to a site lacking predators. To assess the trophic consequences of predator release, we linked individual morphology (cranial, jaw, and body) to foraging performance. Our results show that predator release caused an increase in guppy density and a “sharpening” of guppy trophic traits, which enhanced food consumption rates. Predator release appears to have shifted natural selection away from predator escape ability and towards resource acquisition ability. Related diet and mesocosm studies suggest that this shift enhances the impact of guppies on lower trophic levels in a fashion nuanced by the omnivorous feeding ecology of the species. We conclude that extirpation of top predators may commonly select for enhanced feeding performance in prey, with important cascading consequences for communities and ecosystems.
Cascading trophic interactions are often defined as the indirect effects of a predator on primary producers through the effect of the predator on herbivores. These effects can be both direct through removal of herbivores [density-mediated indirect interactions (DMIIs)] or indirect through changes in the behavior of the herbivores [trait-mediated indirect interactions (TMIIs)]. How the relative importance of these two indirect interactions varies with predator diversity remains poorly understood. We tested the effect of predator diversity on both TMIIs and DMIIs on phytoplankton using two competitive invasive dreissenid mussel species (zebra mussel and quagga mussel) as the herbivores and combinations of one, two or all three species of the predators pumpkinseed sunfish, round goby, and rusty crayfish. Predators had either direct access to mussels and induced both TMII and DMII, or no direct access and induced only TMII through the presence of risk cues. In both sets of treatments, the predators induced a trophic cascade which resulted in more phytoplankton remaining with predators present than with only mussels present. The trophic cascade was weaker in three-predator and two-predator treatments than in one-predator treatments when predators had direct access to dreissenids (DMIIs and TMIIs). Crayfish had higher cascading effects on phytoplankton than both pumpkinseed and round goby. Increased predator diversity decreased the strength of DMIIs but had no effect on the strength of TMIIs. The strength of TMIIs was higher with zebra than quagga mussels. Our study suggests that inter-specific interference among predators in multi-species treatments weakens the consumptive cascading effects of predation on lower trophic levels whereas the importance of predator diversity on trait mediated effects depends on predator identity.
The prediction of pest-control functioning by multi-predator communities is hindered by the non-additive nature of species functioning. Such non-additivity, commonly termed an emergent multi-predator effect, is known to be affected by elements of the ecological context, such as the structure and composition of vegetation, in addition to the traits of the predators themselves. Here we report mesocosm experiments designed to test the influence of plant density and species composition (wheat monoculture or wheat and faba bean polyculture) on the emergence of multi-predator effects between Adalia bipunctata and Chrysoperla carnea, in their suppression of populations of the aphid Metopolophium dirhodum. The mesocosm experiments were followed by a series of behavioural observations designed to identify how interactions among predators are modified by plant species composition and whether these effects are consistent with the observed influence of plant species composition on aphid population suppression. Although plant density was shown to have no influence on the multi-predator effect on aphid population growth, plant composition had a marked effect. In wheat monoculture, Adalia and Chrysoperla mixed treatments caused greater suppression of M. dirhodum populations than expected. However this positive emergent effect was reversed to a negative multi-predator effect in wheat and faba bean polyculture. The behavioural observations revealed that although dominant individuals did not respond to the presence of faba bean plants, the behaviour of sub-dominants was affected markedly, consistent with their foraging for extra-floral nectar produced by the faba bean. This interaction between plant composition and predator community composition on the foraging behaviour of sub-dominants is thought to underlie the observed effect of plant composition on the multi-predator effect. Thus, the emergence of multi-predator effects is shown to be strongly influenced by plant species composition, mediated, in this case, by the provision of extra-floral nectar by one of the plant species.
The question whether top-down or bottom-up forces dominate trophic relationships, energy flow, and abundances within food webs has fuelled much ecological research with particular focus on soil litter ecosystems. Because litter simultaneously provides habitat structure and a basal resource, disentangling direct trophic and indirect non-trophic effects on different trophic levels remains challenging. Here, we focussed on short-term per capita interaction strengths of generalist predators (centipedes) on their microbi-detritivore prey (springtails) and addressed how the habitat structuring effects of the leaf litter modifies this interaction. We performed a series of laboratory functional response experiments where four levels of habitat structure were constructed by adding different amounts of leaf litter to the experimental arenas. We found that increased leaf litter reduced the consumption rate of the predator. We interpreted this as a dilution effect of the augmented habitat size provided by the increasing leaf litter surface available to the species. Dilution of the prey population decreased encounter rates, whereas the capture success was not affected. Interestingly, our results imply that top-down control by centipedes decreased with increasing resource supply for the microbi-detritivore prey (i.e. the leaf litter that simultaneously provides habitat structure). Therefore, effective top-down control of predators on microbi-detritvore populations seems unlikely in litter-rich ecosystems due to the non-trophic, habitat-structuring effect of the basal litter resource.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00442-012-2530-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Bottom-up control; Functional response; Non-linear interaction strength; Predator–prey interaction; Soil food webs
Indirect ecological effects (IEEs) are widespread and often as strong as the phenotypic effects arising from direct interactions in natural communities. Indirect effects can influence competitive interactions, and are thought to be important selective forces. However, the extent that selection arising from IEEs results in long-term evolutionary change depends on genetic variation underlying the phenotypic response—that is, a genotype-by-IEE interaction. We provide the first data on genetic variation in the response of traits to an IEE, and illustrate how such genetic variation might be detected and analysed. We used a model tri-trophic system to investigate the effect of host plants on two populations of predatory ladybirds through a clonal aphid herbivore. A split-family experimental design allowed us to estimate the effects of aphid host plant on ladybird traits (IEE) and the extent of genetic variation in ladybird predators for response to these effects (genotype-by-indirect environmental effect interaction). We found significant genetic variation in the response of ladybird phenotypes to the indirect effect of host plant of their aphid prey, demonstrating the potential for evolutionary responses to selection arising from the prey host.
indirect ecological effect; genotype–environment interaction; community genetics; tri-trophic interaction; trophic cascade; genotype–phenotype map
An understanding of the evolution of potential signals from plants to the predators of their herbivores may provide exciting examples of co-evolution among multiple trophic levels. Understanding the mechanism behind the attraction of predators to plants is crucial to conclusions about co-evolution. For example, insectivorous birds are attracted to herbivore-damaged trees without seeing the herbivores or the defoliated parts, but it is not known whether birds use cues from herbivore-damaged plants with a specific adaptation of plants for this purpose.
We examined whether signals from damaged trees attract avian predators in the wild and whether birds could use volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions or net photosynthesis of leaves as cues to detect herbivore-rich trees. We conducted a field experiment with mountain birches (Betula pubescens ssp. czerepanovii), their main herbivore (Epirrita autumnata) and insectivorous birds. Half of the trees had herbivore larvae defoliating trees hidden inside branch bags and half had empty bags as controls. We measured predation rate of birds towards artificial larvae on tree branches, and VOC emissions and net photosynthesis of leaves.
Principal Findings and Significance
The predation rate was higher in the herbivore trees than in the control trees. This confirms that birds use cues from trees to locate insect-rich trees in the wild. The herbivore trees had decreased photosynthesis and elevated emissions of many VOCs, which suggests that birds could use either one, or both, as cues. There was, however, large variation in how the VOC emission correlated with predation rate. Emissions of (E)-DMNT [(E)-4,8-dimethyl-1,3,7-nonatriene], β-ocimene and linalool were positively correlated with predation rate, while those of highly inducible green leaf volatiles were not. These three VOCs are also involved in the attraction of insect parasitoids and predatory mites to herbivore-damaged plants, which suggests that plants may not have specific adaptations to signal only to birds.
We tested joint effects of predator loss and increased resource availability on the grazers’ trophic level and the propagation of trophic interactions in a benthic food web by excluding larger predatory fish from cages and manipulating nutrients in the coastal zone of the Baltic Sea. The combination of nutrient enrichment and excluding larger predators induced an increase in medium-sized predatory fish (three-spined stickleback). The meso-predator fish in turn did not change the total abundance of the invertebrate herbivores, but did cause a substantial shift in their community composition towards the dominance of gastropods by reducing amphipods by 40–60%, while gastropods were left unchanged. The shift in grazer composition generated a 23 times higher producer biomass, but only under nutrient enrichment. Our results show that top-predator declines can substantially shift the species composition at the grazers’ level, but that cascading effects on producers by a trophic cascade strongly depend on resource availability.
Food web composition and resource levels can influence ecosystem properties such as productivity and elemental cycles. In particular, herbivores occupy a central place in food webs as the species richness and composition of this trophic level may simultaneously influence the transmission of resource and predator effects to higher and lower trophic levels, respectively. Yet, these interactions are poorly understood.
Using an experimental seagrass mesocosm system, we factorially manipulated water column nutrient concentrations, food chain length, and diversity of crustacean grazers to address two questions: (1) Does food web composition modulate the effects of nutrient enrichment on plant and grazer biomasses and stoichiometry? (2) Do ecosystem fluxes of dissolved oxygen and nutrients more closely reflect above-ground biomass and community structure or sediment processes? Nutrient enrichment and grazer presence generally had strong effects on biomass accumulation, stoichiometry, and ecosystem fluxes, whereas predator effects were weaker or absent. Nutrient enrichment had little effect on producer biomass or net ecosystem production but strongly increased seagrass nutrient content, ecosystem flux rates, and grazer secondary production, suggesting that enhanced production was efficiently transferred from producers to herbivores. Gross ecosystem production (oxygen evolution) correlated positively with above-ground plant biomass, whereas inorganic nutrient fluxes were unrelated to plant or grazer biomasses, suggesting dominance by sediment microbial processes. Finally, grazer richness significantly stabilized ecosystem processes, as predators decreased ecosystem production and respiration only in the zero- and one- species grazer treatments.
Overall, our results indicate that consumer presence and species composition strongly influence ecosystem responses to nutrient enrichment, and that increasing herbivore diversity can stabilize ecosystem flux rates in the face of perturbations.
Recent theoretical and empirical work argues that growth rate can evolve and be optimized, rather than always being maximized. Chronically low resource availability is predicted to favour the evolution of slow growth, whereas attaining a size-refuge from mortality risk is predicted to favour the evolution of rapid growth. Guppies (Poecilia reticulata) evolve differences in behaviour, morphology and life-history traits in response to predation, thus demonstrating that predators are potent agents of selection. Predators in low-predation environments prey preferentially on small guppies, but those in high-predation environments appear to be non-selective. Because guppies can outgrow their main predator in low- but not high-predation localities, we predict that predation will select for higher growth rates in the low-predation environments. However, low-predation localities also tend to have lower productivity than high-predation localities, yielding the prediction that guppies from these sites should have slower growth rates. Here we compare the growth rates of the second laboratory-born generation of guppies from paired high- and low-predation localities from four different drainages. In two out of four comparisons, guppies from high-predation sites grew significantly faster than their low-predation counterparts. We also compare laboratory born descendants from a field introduction experiment and show that guppies introduced to a low-predation environment evolved slower growth rates after 13 years, although this was evident only at the high food level. The weight of the evidence suggests that resource availability plays a more important role than predation in shaping the evolution of growth rates.
guppy; growth rate; size-selective predation; resource availability
There is increasing evidence that top-down controls have strong non-consumptive effects on herbivore populations. However, little is known about how these non-consumptive effects relate to bottom-up influences. Using a series of field trials, we tested how changes in top-down and bottom-up controls at the within-plant scale interact to increase herbivore suppression. In the first experiment, we manipulated access of natural populations of predators (primarily lady beetles) to controlled numbers of A. glycines on upper (i.e. vigorous-growing) versus lower (i.e. slow-growing) soybean nodes and under contrasting plant ages. In a second experiment, we measured aphid dispersion in response to predation. Bottom-up and top-down controls had additive effects on A. glycines population growth. Plant age and within-plant quality had significant bottom-up effects on aphid size and population growth. However, top-down control was the dominant force suppressing aphid population growth, and completely counteracted bottom-up effects at the plant and within-plant scales. The intensity of predation was higher on upper than lower soybean nodes, and resulted in a non-consumptive reduction in aphid population growth because most of the surviving aphids were located on lower plant nodes, where rates of increase were reduced. No effects of predation on aphid dispersal among plants were detected, suggesting an absence of predator avoidance behavior by A. glycines. Our results revealed significant non-consumptive predator impacts on aphids due to the asymmetric intensity of predation at the within-plant scale, suggesting that low numbers of predators are highly effective at suppressing aphid populations.
The tiered approach to assessing ecological risk of insect-resistant transgenic crops assumes that lower tier laboratory studies, which expose surrogate non-target organisms to high doses of insecticidal proteins, can detect harmful effects that might be manifested in the field. To test this assumption, we performed meta-analyses comparing results for non-target invertebrates exposed to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) Cry proteins in laboratory studies with results derived from independent field studies examining effects on the abundance of non-target invertebrates. For Lepidopteran-active Cry proteins, laboratory studies correctly predicted the reduced field abundance of non-target Lepidoptera. However, laboratory studies incorporating tri-trophic interactions of Bt plants, herbivores and parasitoids were better correlated with the decreased field abundance of parasitoids than were direct-exposure assays. For predators, laboratory tri-trophic studies predicted reduced abundances that were not realized in field studies and thus overestimated ecological risk. Exposure to Coleopteran-active Cry proteins did not significantly reduce the laboratory survival or field abundance of any functional group examined. Our findings support the assumption that laboratory studies of transgenic insecticidal crops show effects that are either consistent with, or more conservative than, those found in field studies, with the important caveat that laboratory studies should explore all ecologically relevant routes of exposure.
non-target effects; Bt crops; risk assessment; transgenic crops; meta-analysis
By linking ecological theory with freely-available Google Earth satellite imagery, landscape-scale footprints of behavioural interactions between predators and prey can be observed remotely. A Google Earth image survey of the lagoon habitat at Heron Island within Australia's Great Barrier Reef revealed distinct halo patterns within algal beds surrounding patch reefs. Ground truth surveys confirmed that, as predicted, algal canopy height increases with distance from reef edges. A grazing assay subsequently demonstrated that herbivore grazing was responsible for this pattern. In conjunction with recent behavioural ecology studies, these findings demonstrate that herbivores' collective antipredator behavioural patterns can shape vegetation distributions on a scale clearly visible from space. By using sequential Google Earth images of specific locations over time, this technique could potentially allow rapid, inexpensive remote monitoring of cascading, indirect effects of predator removals (e.g., fishing; hunting) and/or recovery and reintroductions (e.g., marine or terrestrial reserves) nearly anywhere on earth.