Letters to Nature

Nature 429, 407-410 (27 May 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02554; Received 16 February 2004; Accepted 6 April 2004

Predator diversity dampens trophic cascades

Deborah L. Finke1 & Robert F. Denno1

  1. Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland 20742, USA

Correspondence to: Deborah L. Finke1 Email: dfinke@umd.edu

Food web complexity is thought to weaken the strength of terrestrial trophic cascades1, 2, 3 in which strong impacts of natural enemies on herbivores cascade to influence primary production indirectly4. Predator diversity can enhance food web complexity because predators may feed on each other and on shared prey5, 6, 7. In such cases, theory suggests that the impact of predation on herbivores relaxes and cascading effects on basal resources are dampened8, 9. Despite this view, no empirical studies have explicitly investigated the role of predator diversity in mediating primary productivity in a natural terrestrial system10, 11. Here we compare, in a coastal marsh community, impacts of arthropod predators on herbivores and plant productivity between a simple food web with a single predator species and a complex food web with a diverse predator assemblage. We show that enhancing predator diversity dampens enemy effects on herbivores and weakens trophic cascades. Consequently, changes in diversity at higher trophic levels can significantly alter ecosystem function in natural systems.

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