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Trickle-down effects of aboveground trophic cascades on the soil food web


  • David A. Wardle,

  • Wendy M. Williamson,

  • Gregor W. Yeates,

  • Karen I. Bonner

D. A. Wardle, W. M. Williamson and K. I. Bonner, Landcare Research, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln, New Zealand. DAW also at: Dept of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE 901-83 Umeå, Sweden ( – G. W. Yeates, Landcare Research, Private Bag 11052, Palmerston North, New Zealand.


Trophic cascades are increasingly being regarded as important features of aboveground and belowground food webs, but the effects of aboveground cascades on soil food webs, and vice versa, remains essentially unexplored. We conducted an experiment consisting of model synthesised communities containing grassland plant and invertebrate species, in which treatments included soil only, soil+plants, soil+plants+aphids, and soil+plants+aphids+predators; predator treatments consisted of the lacewing Micromus tasmaniae and ladybird beetle Coccinella undecimpunctata added either singly or in combination. Addition of Micromus largely reversed the negative effects of aphids on plant biomass, while both of the predator species caused large changes in the relative abundances of dominant plant species. Predators of aphids also affected several components of the belowground subsystem. Micromus had positive indirect effects on the primary consumer of the soil decomposer food web (microflora), probably through promoting greater input of basal resources to the decomposer subsystem. Predator treatments also influenced densities of the tertiary consumers of the soil food web (top predatory nematodes), most likely through inducing changes in plant community composition and therefore the quality of resource input to the soil. The secondary consumers of the soil food web (microbe-feeding nematodes) were, however, unresponsive. The fact that some trophic levels of the soil food web but not others responded to aboveground manipulations is explicable in terms of top-down and bottom-up forces differentially regulating different belowground trophic levels. Addition of aphids also influenced microbial community structure, promoted soil bacteria at the expense of fungi, and enhanced the diversity of herbivorous nematodes; in all cases these effects were at least partially reversed by addition of Micromus. These results in tandem point to upper level consumers in aboveground food webs as a potential driver of the belowground subsystem, and provide evidence that predator-induced trophic cascades aboveground can have effects that trickle through soil food webs.