Trophic trickles and cascades in a complex food web: impacts of a keystone predator on stream community structure and ecosystem processes

Authors

  • Guy Woodward,

  • Georgia Papantoniou,

  • François Edwards,

  • Rasmus B. Lauridsen


G. Woodward (g.woodward@qmul.ac.uk), G. Papantaniou, F. Edwards and R. B. Lauridsen, School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, Queen Mary Univ. of London, London, UK, E1 4NS.

Abstract

Chalk streams are among the most species-rich and productive of all temperate ecosystems. Despite this, a few keystone species have the potential to exert disproportionately powerful effects on community structure and ecosystem processes. Two of these are the bullhead Cottus gobio, a small benthic fish that is an extremely abundant, voracious predator, and the freshwater shrimp Gammaruspulex, which dominates the prey assemblage and is the principal detritivore. Field experiments detected a bullhead–Gammarus–detritus trophic cascade, with detrital processing rates slowed dramatically in the presence of the predator. In addition, survey data also revealed strong negative density-dependence between bullhead and brown trout, adding a further link in the cascade. However, although bullhead also depressed the abundance of a dominant grazer, the snail Potamopyrgus antipodarum, there was no cascading effect upon algal production, suggesting that autochthonous inputs were not controlled by top–down effects. This skewed effect of the predator upon autochthonous versus allochthonous basal resources stresses the need to consider both pathways of energy flux into the food web, whereas many previous studies have potentially overemphasized the importance of predator–herbivore–primary producer cascades. The wider community food web contained 142 species and 1383 feeding links. This complex network exhibited “small world” properties, such as high clustering (unlike many other food webs) and shortest path lengths between species were small (in common with many other food webs). In particular, each of the four members of the detrital cascade could be connected to any other species by three links or fewer. Our data revealed that powerful cascading effects can be imbedded within even very complex ecological networks.

Ancillary