Friday, December 16, 2005

Loss of predator diversity accelerates trophic cascades

A study to be published in the January 2006 volume of Ecology Letters by Byrnes, et al. indicates that declining diversity of predators accelerates changes in community structure:

Although human-mediated extinctions disproportionately affect higher trophic levels, the ecosystem consequences of declining diversity are best known for plants and herbivores. We combined field surveys and experimental manipulations to examine the consequences of changing predator diversity for trophic cascades in kelp forests. In field surveys we found that predator diversity was negatively correlated with herbivore abundance and positively correlated with kelp abundance. To assess whether this relationship was causal, we manipulated predator richness in kelp mesocosms, and found that decreasing predator richness increased herbivore grazing, leading to a decrease in the biomass of the giant kelp Macrocystis. The presence of different predators caused different herbivores to alter their behaviour by reducing grazing, such that total grazing was lowest at highest predator diversity. Our results suggest that declining predator diversity can have cascading effects on community structure by reducing the abundance of key habitat-providing species.  Abstract

 


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