Predator diversity dampens trophic cascades

Abstract

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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Figure 1: Component of salt marsh food web used in experimental design27–29.
Figure 2: Effect of predator diversity on the occurrence of trophic cascades in greenhouse mesocosms.
Figure 3: Effect of predator diversity on the occurrence of trophic cascades in field enclosures.

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Acknowledgements

We thank B. Cardinale, W. Fagan, M. Palmer and O. Schmitz for their comments. This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to R.F.D.

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Correspondence to Deborah L. Finke.

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Finke, D., Denno, R. Predator diversity dampens trophic cascades. Nature 429, 407–410 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02554

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