Plant facilitation of a belowground predator

Evan L Preisser, Christopher J Dugaw, Brian Dennis, Donald R Strong
Ecology 2006, 87 (5): 1116-23
Interest in facilitative predator plant interactions has focused upon above-ground systems. Underground physical conditions are distinctive, however, and we provide evidence that bush lupine, Lupinus arboreus, facilitates the survival of the predatory nematode Heterorhabditis marelatus. Because H. marelatus is prone to desiccation and lupines maintain a zone of moist soil around their taproots even during dry periods, we hypothesized that dry-season nematode survival under lupines might be higher than in the surrounding grasslands. We performed field surveys and measured nematode survival in lupine and grassland rhizospheres under wet- and dry-season conditions. Nematodes survived the crucial summer period better under lupines than in grasslands; however, this advantage disappeared in wet, winter soils. Modeling the probability of nematode population extinction showed that, while even large nematode cohorts were likely to go extinct in grasslands, even small cohorts in lupine rhizospheres were likely to survive until the arrival of the next prey generation. Because this nematode predator has a strong top-down effect on lupine survival via its effect on root-boring larvae of the ghost moth Hepialus californicus, this facilitative interaction may enable a belowground trophic cascade. Similar cases of predator facilitation in seasonally stressful environments are probably common in nature.

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