Variation in the strengths of predator effects, although commonly observed in natural communities, and predicted from theoretical models, remains poorly understood in the study of food web interactions and community structure. In this study, I first showed that prey species in benthic pond food webs were highly variable in their susceptibility to predators. Some were vulnerable throughout their lives, whereas others were vulnerable as juveniles, but able to grow to a size-refuge. Next, I showed that herbivore and predator abundance increased along a natural productivity gradient among 29 ponds, and herbivore species composition shifted from dominance by vulnerable to dominance by invulnerable herbivore species along this gradient. However, there was a considerable amount of variation both in herbivore biomass and composition at intermediate productivity; some were dominated by small species and others by larger species. Finally, in in situ exclosure experiments, I found that predator effects were strong and cascaded to plants in a low productivity pond and in an intermediate productivity pond dominated by small herbivore species. Alternatively, in a high productivity pond and in an intermediate productivity pond dominated by larger herbivores, I found that predator effects on prey biomass were weak, and did not cascade to plants.