Main content area

Aquatic predation alters a terrestrial prey subsidy

Wesner, Jeff Scott
Ecology 2010 v.91 no.5 pp. 1435-1444
Anisoptera (Odonata), Araneae, Chironomidae, Cyprinella lutrensis, Etheostoma, adults, aquatic habitat, aquatic insects, biomass, ecosystems, energy flow, food webs, insect communities, larvae, life history, predation, predatory fish, prediction, streams, subsidies
Organisms with complex life histories (CLH) often cross habitat or ecosystem boundaries as they develop from larvae to adults, coupling energy flow between ecosystems as both prey (bottom‐up) and consumers (top‐down). Predation effects on one stage of this life cycle can therefore cascade across ecosystems, magnifying the impact of local predation. The majority of predation studies have assessed effects only on a local level, within the habitat of the predator. I used large outdoor stream mesocosms to test the hypothesis that predation in an aquatic habitat alters the magnitude and trophic structure of a prey assemblage in a terrestrial habitat. I also tested how a consumer in the terrestrial habitat (web‐weaving spiders) responded to these changes in prey export. Two fish species were the predators (red shiner, Cyprinella lutrensis and orangethroat darter, Etheostoma spectabile) in an experiment with three treatments: both fish species monocultures plus a fishless control. Fish predation reduced aquatic insect emergence biomass by 50% compared to the fishless control and altered the trophic structure of the emergent community, reducing emerging insect predator biomass by 50%, but had no effect on other insect trophic groups. Spiders captured only insects that were unaffected by fish predation (mostly chironomids) and therefore did not respond numerically to overall changes in insect abundance or biomass. Patterns of insect emergence were largely driven by a strong negative relationship between fish and a predatory dragonfly (Pantala flavescens). The results of this experiment show that predation in one habitat can have strong effects on the biomass and trophic structure of subsidies entering adjacent habitats, resulting in contrasting predictions for the role of these subsidies in recipient food webs. In the absence of fish, aquatic habitats produced terrestrial insect communities with higher biomass (bottom‐up potential) and a higher proportion of predators (top‐down potential) than when fish were present.