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System productivity alters predator sorting of a size-structured mixed prey community

Davidson, AndrewT., Dorn, NathanJ.
Oecologia 2018 v.186 no.4 pp. 1101-1111
Pomacea, Procambarus fallax, biomass, crayfish, juveniles, predation, predator-prey relationships, predators, prediction, prey species, snails, wetlands
Predator–prey interactions are often size-structured and focused on smaller vulnerable size classes. Predators are also predicted to sort prey communities according to relative vulnerabilities. Increased system productivity and juvenile growth may benefit some species more than others, making relative vulnerability non-static and growth-mediated. We hypothesized that increased system productivity would weaken juvenile-stage predation generally, and potentially shift the community sorting effects of a predator. Using replicated wetland mesocosms we quantified the effects of a generalist size-specific crayfish predator (Procambarus fallax) on juveniles of two species of apple snails (Pomacea spp.) under two levels of system productivity (low vs. high). After 6 weeks of exposure, we quantified predator and productivity effects on snail survival, biomass, and composition of the assemblage. Crayfish depressed the final density and biomass of snails, and sorted the assemblage, selectively favoring survival of the native P. paludosa over the intrinsically more vulnerable invasive P. maculata. Both snails grew faster at higher productivity, but growth differentially increased survival of the invasive snail in the presence of crayfish and weakened the sorting effect. The native P. paludosa hatches at a larger less vulnerable size than the invasive P. maculata, but higher productivity reduced the relative advantage of P. paludosa. Our results are inconsistent with predictions about the sorting effects of predators across productivity gradients, because the more vulnerable prey dominated at low productivity. Our findings highlight that the relative vulnerabilities of prey to a common predator are not always fixed, but can be growth-mediated.