Top predator control of plant biodiversity and productivity in an old-field ecosystem


  • Oswald J. Schmitz

    1. School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Yale University, 370 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA
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Abstract Predators can have strong indirect effects on plants by altering the way herbivores impact plants. Yet, many current evaluations of plant species diversity and ecosystem function ignore the effects of predators and focus directly on the plant trophic level. This report presents results of a 3-year field experiment in a temperate old-field ecosystem that excluded either predators, or predators and herbivores and evaluated the consequence of those manipulations on plant species diversity (richness and evenness) and plant productivity. Sustained predator and predator and herbivore exclusion resulted in lower plant species evenness and higher plant biomass production than control field plots representing the intact natural ecosystem. Predators had this diversity-enhancing effect on plants by causing herbivores to suppress the abundance of a competitively dominant plant species that offered herbivores a refuge from predation risk.