Evolutionary trade-offs in plants mediate the strength of trophic cascades

Kailen A Mooney, Rayko Halitschke, Andre Kessler, Anurag A Agrawal
Science 2010 March 26, 327 (5973): 1642-4
Predators determine herbivore and plant biomass via so-called trophic cascades, and the strength of such effects is influenced by ecosystem productivity. To determine whether evolutionary trade-offs among plant traits influence patterns of trophic control, we manipulated predators and soil fertility and measured impacts of a major herbivore (the aphid Aphis nerii) on 16 milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) in a phylogenetic field experiment. Herbivore density was determined by variation in predation and trade-offs between herbivore resistance and plant growth strategy. Neither herbivore density nor predator effects on herbivores predicted the cascading effects of predators on plant biomass. Instead, cascade strength was strongly and positively associated with milkweed response to soil fertility. Accordingly, contemporary patterns of trophic control are driven by evolutionary convergent trade-offs faced by plants.

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