Landscape variation influences trophic cascades in dengue vector food webs.
ABSTRACT: The epidemiology of vector-borne diseases is governed by a structured array of correlative and causative factors, including landscape (for example, rural versus urban), abiotic (for example, weather), and biotic (for example, food web) factors. Studies of mosquito-borne diseases rarely address these multiple factors at large spatial scales, which limits insights into how human alterations of landscapes and food webs alter mosquito abundance. We used structural equation modeling to identify the relative magnitude and direction of landscape, abiotic, and food web factors on Aedes larvae and adults across 70 sites in northern Thailand. Food web factors were modeled as mosquito-predator trophic cascades. Landscape context affected mosquito-predator communities in aquatic and terrestrial environments via cascading food web interactions. Several mosquito predators within these food webs showed potential as biocontrol agents in mosquito population control, but their potentials for control were landscape-dependent. In terrestrial food webs, the habitat-sensitive tokay gecko structured mosquito-predator communities, indicating that a conservation approach to vector control could be a useful addition to existing control efforts.
Project description:The food web is one of the oldest and most central organising concepts in ecology and for decades, food chain length has been hypothesised to be controlled by productivity, disturbance, and/or ecosystem size; each of which may be mediated by the functional trophic role of the top predator. We characterised aquatic food webs using carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes from 66 river and floodplain sites across the wet-dry tropics of northern Australia to determine the relative importance of productivity (indicated by nutrient concentrations), disturbance (indicated by hydrological isolation) and ecosystem size, and how they may be affected by food web architecture. We show that variation in food chain length was unrelated to these classic environmental determinants, and unrelated to the trophic role of the top predator. This finding is a striking exception to the literature and is the first published example of food chain length being unaffected by any of these determinants. We suggest the distinctive seasonal hydrology of northern Australia allows the movement of fish predators, linking isolated food webs and potentially creating a regional food web that overrides local effects of productivity, disturbance and ecosystem size. This finding supports ecological theory suggesting that mobile consumers promote more stable food webs. It also illustrates how food webs, and energy transfer, may function in the absence of the human modifications to landscape hydrological connectivity that are ubiquitous in more populated regions.
Project description:Mercury (Hg) biomagnification in aquatic food webs is a global concern; yet, the ways species traits and interactions mediate these fluxes remain poorly understood. Few pathways dominated Hg flux in the Colorado River despite large spatial differences in food web complexity, and fluxes were mediated by one functional trait, predation resistance. New Zealand mudsnails are predator resistant and a trophic dead end for Hg in food webs we studied. Fishes preferred blackflies, which accounted for 56 to 80% of Hg flux to fishes, even where blackflies were rare. Food web properties, i.e., match/mismatch between insect production and fish consumption, governed amounts of Hg retained in the river versus exported to land. An experimental flood redistributed Hg fluxes in the simplified tailwater food web, but not in complex downstream food webs. Recognizing that species traits, species interactions, and disturbance mediate contaminant exposure can improve risk management of linked aquatic-terrestrial ecosystems.
Project description:The structure of food webs is frequently described using phenomenological stochastic models. A prominent example, the niche model, was found to produce artificial food webs resembling real food webs according to a range of summary statistics. However, the size structure of food webs generated by the niche model and real food webs has not yet been rigorously compared. To fill this void, I use a body mass based version of the niche model and compare prey-predator body mass allometry and predator-prey body mass ratios predicted by the model to empirical data. The results show that the model predicts weaker size structure than observed in many real food webs. I introduce a modified version of the niche model which allows to control the strength of size-dependence of predator-prey links. In this model, optimal prey body mass depends allometrically on predator body mass and on a second trait, such as foraging mode. These empirically motivated extensions of the model allow to represent size structure of real food webs realistically and can be used to generate artificial food webs varying in several aspects of size structure in a controlled way. Hence, by explicitly including the role of species traits, this model provides new opportunities for simulating the consequences of size structure for food web dynamics and stability.
Project description:Subsidies from adjacent ecosystems can alter recipient food webs and ecosystem functions, such as herbivory. Emerging aquatic insects from streams can be an important prey in the riparian zone. Such aquatic subsidies can enhance predator abundances or cause predators to switch prey, depending on the herbivores. This can lead to an increase or decrease of in situ herbivores and herbivory. We examined the effects of aquatic subsidies on a simplified terrestrial food web consisting of two types of herbivores, plants and predators (spiders). In our six-week experiment, we focused on the prey choice of the spiders by excluding predator immigration and reproduction. In accordance with predator switching, survival of leafhoppers increased in the presence of aquatic subsidies. By contrast, the presence of aquatic subsidies indirectly reduced weevils and herbivory. Our study shows that effects of aquatic subsidies on terrestrial predators can propagate through the food web in contrasting ways. Thereby, the outcome of the trophic cascade is determined by the prey choice of predators.
Project description:Food web structure and species richness are both subject to biotic (e.g. predation pressure and resource limitation) and abiotic stress (e.g. environmental change). We investigated the combined effects of both types of stress on richness and connectance, and on their relationship, in a predator-prey system. To this end, we developed a mathematical two trophic level food-web model to investigate the effects of biotic and abiotic stress on food web connectance and species richness. We found negative effects of top-down and bottom-up control on prey and predator richness, respectively. Effects of top-down and bottom-up control were stronger when initial connectance was high and low, respectively. Bottom-up control could either aggravate or buffer negative effects of top-down control. Abiotic stress affecting predator richness had positive indirect effects on prey richness, but only when initial connectance was low. However, no indirect effects on predator richness were observed following direct effects on prey richness. Top-down and bottom-up control selected for weakly connected prey and highly connected predators, thereby decreasing and increasing connectance, respectively. Our simulations suggest a broad range of negative and positive richness-connectance relationships, thereby revisiting the often found negative relationship between richness and connectance in food webs. Our results suggest that (1) initial food-web connectance strongly influences the effects of biotic stress on richness and the occurrence of indirect effects on richness; and (2) the shape of the richness-connectance relationship depends on the type of biotic stress.
Project description:How food webs are structured has major implications for their stability and dynamics. While poorly studied to date, arctic food webs are commonly assumed to be simple in structure, with few links per species. If this is the case, then different parts of the web may be weakly connected to each other, with populations and species united by only a low number of links. We provide the first highly resolved description of trophic link structure for a large part of a high-arctic food web. For this purpose, we apply a combination of recent techniques to describing the links between three predator guilds (insectivorous birds, spiders, and lepidopteran parasitoids) and their two dominant prey orders (Diptera and Lepidoptera). The resultant web shows a dense link structure and no compartmentalization or modularity across the three predator guilds. Thus, both individual predators and predator guilds tap heavily into the prey community of each other, offering versatile scope for indirect interactions across different parts of the web. The current description of a first but single arctic web may serve as a benchmark toward which to gauge future webs resolved by similar techniques. Targeting an unusual breadth of predator guilds, and relying on techniques with a high resolution, it suggests that species in this web are closely connected. Thus, our findings call for similar explorations of link structure across multiple guilds in both arctic and other webs. From an applied perspective, our description of an arctic web suggests new avenues for understanding how arctic food webs are built and function and of how they respond to current climate change. It suggests that to comprehend the community-level consequences of rapid arctic warming, we should turn from analyses of populations, population pairs, and isolated predator-prey interactions to considering the full set of interacting species.
Project description:Food webs (i.e., networks of species and their feeding interactions) share multiple structural features across ecosystems. The factors explaining such similarities are still debated, and the role played by most organismal traits and their intraspecific variation is unknown. Here, we assess how variation in traits controlling predator-prey interactions (e.g., body size) affects food web structure. We show that larger phenotypic variation increases connectivity among predators and their prey as well as total food intake rate. For predators able to eat only a few species (i.e., specialists), low phenotypic variation maximizes intake rates, while the opposite is true for consumers with broader diets (i.e., generalists). We also show that variation sets predator trophic level by determining interaction strengths with prey at different trophic levels. Merging these results, we make two general predictions about the structure of food webs: (i) trophic level should increase with predator connectivity, and (ii) interaction strengths should decrease with prey trophic level. We confirm these predictions empirically using a global dataset of well-resolved food webs. Our results provide understanding of the processes structuring food webs that include functional traits and their naturally occurring variation.
Project description:Nonconsumptive predator-driven mortality (NCM), defined as prey mortality due to predation that does not result in prey consumption, is an underestimated component of predator-prey interactions with possible implications for population dynamics and ecosystem functioning. However, the biotic and abiotic factors influencing this mortality component remain largely unexplored, leaving a gap in our understanding of the impacts of environmental change on ecological communities. We investigated the effects of temperature, prey density, and predator diversity and density on NCM in an aquatic food web module composed of dragonfly larvae (Aeshna cyanea) and marbled crayfish (Procambarus fallax f. virginalis) preying on common carp (Cyprinus carpio) fry. We found that NCM increased with prey density and depended on the functional diversity and density of the predator community. Warming significantly reduced NCM only in the dragonfly larvae but the magnitude depended on dragonfly larvae density. Our results indicate that energy transfer across trophic levels is more efficient due to lower NCM in functionally diverse predator communities, at lower resource densities and at higher temperatures. This suggests that environmental changes such as climate warming and reduced resource availability could increase the efficiency of energy transfer in food webs only if functionally diverse predator communities are conserved.
Project description:The mechanism for maintaining complex food webs has been a central issue in ecology because theory often predicts that complexity (higher the species richness, more the interactions) destabilizes food webs. Although it has been proposed that prey anti-predator defence may affect the stability of prey-predator dynamics, such studies assumed a limited and relatively simpler variation in the food-web structure. Here, using mathematical models, I report that food-web flexibility arising from prey anti-predator defence enhances community-level stability (community persistence and robustness) in more complex systems and even changes the complexity-stability relationship. The model analysis shows that adaptive predator-specific defence enhances community-level stability under a wide range of food-web complexity levels and topologies, while generalized defence does not. Furthermore, while increasing food-web complexity has minor or negative effects on community-level stability in the absence of defence adaptation, or in the presence of generalized defence, in the presence of predator-specific defence, the connectance-stability relationship may become unimodal. Increasing species richness, in contrast, always lowers community-level stability. The emergence of a positive connectance-stability relationship however necessitates food-web compartmentalization, high defence efficiency and low defence cost, suggesting that it only occurs under a restricted condition.
Project description:Food web structure influences ecosystem functioning and the strength and stability of associated ecosystem services. With their broad diet, generalist predators represent key nodes in the structure of many food webs and they contribute substantially to ecosystem services such as biological pest control. However, until recently it has been difficult to empirically assess food web structure with generalist predators. We utilized DNA-based molecular gut-content analyses to assess the prey use of a set of generalist invertebrate predator species common in temperate agricultural fields. We investigated the degree of specialization of predator-prey food webs at two key stages of the cropping season and analysed the link temperature of different trophic links, to identify non-random predation. We found a low level of specialization in our food webs, and identified warm and cool links which may result from active prey choice or avoidance. We also found a within-season variation in interaction strength between predators and aphid pests which differed among predator species. Our results show a high time-specific functional redundancy of the predator community, but also suggest temporally complementary prey choice due to within-season succession of some predator species.