Contrasting cascades: insectivorous birds increase pine but not parasitic mistletoe growth

Kailen A Mooney, Yan B Linhart
Journal of Animal Ecology 2006, 75 (2): 350-7
1. Intraguild predation occurs when top predators feed upon both intermediate predators and herbivores. Intraguild predators may thus have little net impact on herbivore abundance. Variation among communities in the strength of trophic cascades (the indirect effects of predators on plants) may be due to differing frequencies of intraguild predation. Less is known about the influence of variation within communities in predator-predator interactions upon trophic cascade strength. 2. We compared the effects of a single predator community between two sympatric plants and two herbivore guilds. We excluded insectivorous birds with cages from ponderosa pine Pinus ponderosa trees parasitized by dwarf mistletoe Arceuthobium vaginatum. For 3 years we monitored caged and control trees for predatory arthropods that moved between the two plants, foliage-feeding caterpillars and sap-feeding hemipterans that were host-specific, and plant damage and growth. 3. Excluding birds increased the abundance of ant-tended aphids on pine and resulted in an 11% reduction in pine woody growth. Mutualist ants protected pine-feeding aphids from predatory arthropods, allowing aphid populations to burgeon in cages even though predatory arthropods also increased in cages. By protecting pine-feeding aphids from predatory arthropods but not birds, mutualist ants created a three-tiered linear food chain where bird effects cascaded to pine growth via aphids. 4. In contrast to the results for tended aphids on pine, bird exclusion had no net effects on untended pine herbivores, the proportion of pine foliage damaged by pine-feeding caterpillars, or the proportion of mistletoe plants damaged by mistletoe-feeding caterpillars. These results suggest that arthropod predators, which were more abundant in cages as compared with control trees, compensated for bird predation of untended pine and mistletoe herbivores. 5. These contrasting effects of bird exclusion support food web theory: where birds were connected to pine by a linear food chain, a trophic cascade occurred. Where birds fed as intraguild predators, the reticulate food webs linking birds to pine and mistletoe resulted in no net effects on herbivores or plant biomass. Our study shows that this variation in food web structure occurred between sympatric plants and within plants between differing herbivore guilds.

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