Predator Diversity and Identity Drive Interaction Strength and Trophic Cascades in a Food Web
Declining predator diversity may drastically affect the biomass and productivity of herbivores and plants. Understanding how changes in predator diversity can propagate through food webs to alter ecosystem function is one of the most challenging ecological research topics today. We studied the effects of predator removal in a simple natural food web in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California (USA). By excluding the predators of the third trophic level of a food web in a full-factorial design, we monitored cascading effects of varying predator diversity and composition on the herbivorous beetle Chrysomela aeneicollis and the willow Salix orestera, which compose the first and second trophic levels of the food web. Decreasing predator diversity increased herbivore biomass and survivorship, and consequently increased the amount of plant biomass consumed via a trophic cascade. Despite this simple linear mean effect of diversity on the strength of the trophic cascade, we found additivity, compensation, and interference in the effects of multiple predators on herbivores and plants. Herbivore survivorship and predator–prey interaction strengths varied with predator diversity, predator identity, and the identity of coexisting predators. Additive effects of predators on herbivores and plants may have been driven by temporal niche separation, whereas compensatory effects and interference occurred among predators with a similar phenology. Together, these results suggest that while the general trends of diversity effects may appear linear and additive, other information about species identity was required to predict the effects of removing individual predators. In a community that is not temporally wellmixed, predator traits such as phenology may help predict impacts of species loss on other species. Information about predator natural history and food web structure may help explain variation in predator diversity effects on trophic cascades and ecosystem function.