Theory in community ecology often assumes that predator species have similar indirect effects and thus can be treated mathematically as a single functional unit (e.g. guild or trophic level). This assumption is questionable biologically because predator species typically differ in their effects, creating the potential for nonlinearities when they coexist. We evaluated the nature of indirect effects caused by three species of hunting spider predators, singly and in multiple species combinations, on grass and herb plants in experimental old-field food webs. Despite the potential for nonlinearity, indirect effects in different multiple predator combinations consistently did not differ significantly from the respective means of the single species effects. Thus, for this experimental system, the whole was simply the average of the parts. Consequently, models which abstract predator species as single trophic levels would successfully predict indirect effects in this system regardless of the composition of the predator fauna.
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