Diversity–stability relationships in multitrophic systems: an empirical exploration
- 1The relationship between diversity and stability is crucial in understanding the dynamics of multitrophic interactions. There are two basic hypotheses about the causal link between diversity and stability. The first is that fluctuations in resource abundance allow consumer coexistence, thus increasing diversity at the consumer trophic level (resource variability hypothesis). The second is that interactions between coexisting consumer species reduce consumer efficiency and dampen population fluctuations, thus increasing consumer–resource stability (consumer efficiency hypothesis).
- 2The two hypotheses lead to three comparative predictions: (i) fluctuations should be greater (resource variability) or smaller (consumer efficiency) in resource populations with coexisting consumer species, compared to those invaded only by the consumer species superior at resource exploitation; (ii) average resource abundance should be greater (resource variability) or smaller (consumer efficiency) in resource populations with greater fluctuations; and (iii) removal of the consumer species inferior at resource exploitation should increase or not affect resource population fluctuations (resource variability), or always increase them (consumer efficiency).
- 3I tested these predictions with data from a host–multiparasitoid community: the harlequin bug (Murgantia histrionica) and two specialist parasitoids (Trissolcus murgantiae and Ooencyrtus johnsonii) that attack the bug's eggs.
- 4Local host populations with coexisting parasitoids exhibited smaller fluctuations and greater average abundance compared to those with just Trissolcus, the species superior at host exploitation. Local populations that lost Ooencyrtus, the species inferior at host exploitation, exhibited an increase in host population fluctuations compared to those that did not.
- 5The results contradict the expectations of the resource variability hypothesis, suggesting that host population fluctuations are unlikely to be driving parasitoid coexistence. They are consistent with the consumer efficiency hypothesis, that interactions between coexisting parasitoid species dampens host population fluctuations. I discuss the implications of these results as well as possible caveats.