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Biogeographic context dependence of trophic cascade strength in bromeliad food webs

LeCraw, Robin M., Srivastava, Diane S.
Ecology 2019 v.100 no.7 pp. e02692
Bromeliaceae, biomass, detritus, dominant species, ecological function, environmental factors, geographical distribution, leaves, pollution load, predators, temperature, trophic levels, Brazil, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico
Ecosystem functions and the biomass of lower trophic levels are frequently controlled by predators. The strength of top‐down control in these trophic cascades can be affected by the identity and diversity of predators, prey, and resources, as well as environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture, and nutrient loading, which can all impact interaction strength between trophic levels. Few studies have been able to replicate a complete community over a large geographic area to compare the full trophic cascade in a manipulative experiment. Here, we identify geographic dependency in trophic cascade strength, and the driving factors and specific mechanisms behind it, by combining geographically replicated experiments with a novel approach of community analogues of common garden and transplant experiments. We studied a predator–detritivore–detritus food web in bromeliads in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, and Brazil. We found that interaction strengths between resources, consumers, and predators were strongly site‐specific, but the exact mechanism differed between trophic levels. Large bodied predators created strong interaction strengths between predator and consumer trophic levels, reducing consumer abundance regardless of the geographic location, whereas small‐bodied predators created weak interactions with no impact on consumer abundances in any site. In contrast, the interaction strength between consumers and resources varied among sites, depending on the dominant species of leaf detritus. More labile leaf species in Costa Rica created a strong consumer–resource interaction and therefore strong trophic cascade, whereas tougher leaf species in Brazil created a weak consumer–resource interaction, and an overall weaker trophic cascade. Our study highlights the importance of replicating experiments over geographic scales to understand general patterns of ecological processes.