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Quantitative gradient of subsidies reveals a threshold in community‐level trophic cascades

Klemmer, Amanda J., Richardson, John S.
Ecology 2013 v.94 no.9 pp. 1920-1926
food webs, lakes, predators, prediction, subsidies, trout
Evidence varies on how subsidies affect trophic cascades within recipient food webs. This could be due to complex nonlinearities being masked by single‐level manipulations (presence/absence) of subsidies in past studies. We predicted that trophic cascade strength would increase nonlinearly across a gradient of subsidies. We set out to reveal these complex, nonlinear relationships through manipulating a quantitative gradient of detrital subsidies to lake benthic food webs along with the presence/absence of trout. Contrary to our prediction, we found that trophic cascades only occurred at low subsidy levels, disappearing as subsidies increased. This threshold in trophic cascade strength may be due to an increase in intermediate predators in the absence of top predators, as well as changes in the proportion of armored vs. un‐armored primary consumers. Future studies on the effect of subsidies on trophic cascade strength need to incorporate naturally occurring gradients to reveal the complex direct and indirect interactions within food webs.