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Anthropogenic resource subsidies decouple predator–prey relationships

Rodewald, Amanda D., Kearns, Laura J., Shustack, Daniel P.
Ecological applications 2011 v.21 no.3 pp. 936-943
Molothrus ater, breeding, food webs, foods, forest stands, forests, humans, landscapes, nests, parks, predator-prey relationships, predators, songbirds, subsidies, synanthropes, urban areas, urban development, Ohio
The extent to which resource subsidies affect food web dynamics is poorly understood in anthropogenic landscapes. To better understand how species interactions are influenced by subsidies, we studied breeding birds and nest predators along a rural‐to‐urban landscape gradient that varied in subsidies provided to generalist predators. We hypothesized that resource subsidies in urban landscapes would decouple predator–prey relationships, as predators switch from natural to anthropogenic foods. From 2004 to 2009, we surveyed nest predators and monitored 2942 nests of five songbird species breeding in 19 mature forest stands in Ohio, USA. Eighteen species were video‐recorded depredating nests. Numbers of avian and mammalian nest predators were positively associated with the amount of urban development surrounding forests, with the exception of Brown‐headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Although nest survival strongly declined with detections of nest predators in rural landscapes, nest survival and predator numbers were unrelated in urban landscapes. Thus, the strength of interaction between breeding birds and nest predators diminished as landscapes surrounding forested parks became more urbanized. Our work suggests that decoupling of predator–prey relationships can arise when synanthropic predators are heavily subsidized by anthropogenic resources. In this way, human drivers can alter, and completely disarticulate, relationships among species that are well established in more natural systems.