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Terrestrial vertebrate predators drive the structure and functioning of aquatic food webs

Breviglieri, Crasso Paulo Bosco, Romero, Gustavo Quevedo
Ecology 2017 v.98 no.8 pp. 2069-2080
Anura, Bromeliaceae, Odonata, Tabanidae, aquatic ecosystems, aquatic food webs, aquatic invertebrates, biomass, birds, body size, detritus, ecological function, forage, insectivores, leaves, lizards, predators, scrapers, shrublands, species diversity, Brazil
Predators that forage at boundaries between ecosystems can affect prey from adjacent ecosystems, thereby triggering consumptive and non‐consumptive cascading effects, which may affect diversity and food web structure across ecosystems. In the present study, we manipulated the access of insectivorous birds, lizards, and anurans to tank bromeliads in scrub vegetation in southern Brazil. We measured cascading effects on the community structure of aquatic invertebrates inhabiting bromeliad leaves and on the ecosystem processes of decomposition rate and bromeliad growth. The exclusion of terrestrial vertebrate predators increased the biomass of Odonate and Tabanid apex predators, which shifted the body size structure of the assemblage and generated inverted biomass pyramids that were top‐heavy. Within bromeliads with larger aquatic predators, the species composition and abundance of other aquatic invertebrates also changed, resulting in higher abundance of mesopredators and scrapers, and lower abundance of shredders. Under those conditions, the detritus decomposition rate decreased, and bromeliads produced more leaves, perhaps because of the higher deposition of nitrogenous waste by mesopredators. Our results highlight that the effects of terrestrial vertebrate predators can propagate across aquatic ecosystems, altering species composition, body size structure, food web organization, and ecosystem function.