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Predators suppress herbivore outbreaks and enhance plant recovery following hurricanes

Spiller, David A., Schoener, Thomas W., Piovia‐Scott, Jonah
Ecology 2016 v.97 no.10 pp. 2540-2546
Achyra rantalis, Anolis, Sesuvium portulacastrum, environmental factors, herbivores, hurricanes, islands, lizards, moths, predators, shorelines, temporal variation, vegetation cover, Bahamas
Understanding processes that may stabilize ecological systems confronted with rapidly changing environmental conditions is a key issue in ecology. We studied a system of highly fluctuating populations, the moth Achyra rantalis feeding on the plant Sesuvium portulacastrum in a group of small subtropical islands of the Bahamas. The plant is a prostrate inhabitant of shorelines, and consequently moths are highly vulnerable to being consumed by the ground‐foraging lizard Anolis sagrei. We measured the percent ground cover of Sesuvium and abundance of Achyra on 11 islands with lizards present and 21 islands without lizards annually for 10 consecutive years. Overall abundance of Achyra was 4.6 times higher on no‐lizard islands than on lizard islands. The percent cover of Sesuvium exhibited lower temporal variability on lizard islands when the study site was undisturbed by hurricanes, and higher recovery rate on lizard islands following hurricanes. We suggest that both of these stabilizing phenomena are linked to a trophic cascade in which predatory lizards control herbivore populations, thereby suppressing outbreaks and enhancing plant recovery following physical disturbance.