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Prey‐driven control of predator assemblages: zooplankton abundance drives aquatic beetle colonization

Pintar, Matthew R., Resetarits, William J., Jr.
Ecology 2017 v.98 no.8 pp. 2201-2215
Coleoptera, ecological function, ecosystems, freshwater, habitat preferences, habitats, insects, predators, surface water, zooplankton
Trophic interactions are critical determinants of community structure and ecosystem function. In freshwater habitats, top predators are traditionally viewed as drivers of ecosystem structure, shaping populations of consumers and primary producers. The temporary nature of small water bodies makes them dependent on colonization by many organisms, particularly insects that form highly diverse predator assemblages. We conducted mesocosm experiments with naturally colonizing populations of aquatic beetles to assess how prey (zooplankton) abundances influenced colonization and assemblages of natural populations of aquatic beetles. We experimentally demonstrate that zooplankton populations can be proximate regulators of predator populations and assemblages via prey‐density‐dependent predator recruitment. Our results provide support for the importance of prey populations in structuring predator populations and the role of habitat selection in structuring communities. We indicate that traditional views of predators as drivers of ecosystem structure in many systems may not provide a comprehensive picture, particularly in the context of highly disturbed or ephemeral habitats.