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Keywords:

  • Bottom-up;
  • host-plant quality;
  • hyperparasitoid;
  • parasitoid;
  • salinity;
  • trophic cascade

1. Although in recent years there have been a number of studies demonstrating trophic cascades in terrestrial systems, it is still unclear what environmental conditions enable or enhance such cascades, especially among four trophic levels.

2. In this study, the influence of environmental stress (increased soil pore water salinity) on a four trophic level study system in a Florida salt marsh was examined by experimentally increasing soil pore water salinity. Effects of increased salinity on the quality of the host plant, Batis maritima, were assessed, as were resulting effects on the lepidopteran herbivore Ascia monuste, and the primary parasitoids and hyperparasitoids of its caterpillars.

3. Increased salinity altered host-plant quality, which subsequently affected the consumer species. These effects of altered plant quality cascaded up through the herbivore and primary parasitoid to the hyperparasitoid Hypopteromalus inimicus, influencing its density, sex ratio, body size, and initial egg load.

4. These results demonstrate how heterogeneity in environmental stress can result in effects that cascade up through four trophic levels. We suggest that such strong effects at higher trophic levels may be more likely in systems in which relationships are more specific and intimate such as those among hosts, parasitoids, and hyperparasitoids.