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Food quality, nutrient limitation of secondary production, and the strength of trophic cascades
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Ecology and Environmental Science.
2007 (English)In: Oikos, Vol. 116, no 7, 1128-1143 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Recent meta-analyses confirm that the strength of trophic cascades (indirect positive effects of predators on plant biomass through control of herbivores) varies among ecosystem types. In particular, most terrestrial systems show smaller cascades than most aquatic ones. Ecologists still remain challenged to explain this variation. Here, we examine a food quality hypothesis which states that higher quality plants should promote stronger trophic cascades. Food quality involves two components: digestion resistance of plants and magnitude of stoichiometric imbalance between plants and herbivores (where stoichiometry involves ratios of nutrient: carbon ratio of tissues). Both factors vary among ecosystems and could mediate conversion efficiency of plants into new herbivores (and hence control of plants by herbivores). We explored the food quality hypothesis using two models, one assuming that plant stoichiometry is a fixed trait, the other one allowing this trait to vary dynamically (but with a minimal nutrient: carbon ratio of structural mass). Both models produce the same suite of results. First, as expected, systems with more easily digested plants promote stronger cascades. Second, contrary to expectations, higher (fixed or minimal) nutrient: carbon ratio of plants do not promote stronger cascades, largely because of the net result of ecosystem feedbacks. Still, the model with dynamic stoichiometry permits positive correlations of realized plant nutrient: carbon ratio and cascade strength (as predicted), mediated through digestion resistance. Third, lower nutrient: carbon ratio of herbivores promotes stronger cascades. However, this result likely cannot explain variation in cascade strength because nutrient: carbon stoichiometry of herbivores does not vary greatly between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Finally, we found that predation promotes nutrient limitation of herbivores. This finding highlights that food web processes, such as predation, can influence stoichiometry-mediated interactions of plants and herbivores.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007. Vol. 116, no 7, 1128-1143 p.
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-31471ISI: 000247438000005ISBN: 0030-1299OAI: diva2:293179
Hall, Spencer R. Shurin, Jonathan B. Diehl, Sebastian Nisbet, Roger M.Available from: 2010-02-10 Created: 2010-02-10 Last updated: 2010-02-10

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