1. Many taxa can be found in food webs that differ in trophic complexity, but it is unclear how trophic complexity affects the performance of particular taxa. In pond food webs, larvae of the salamander Ambystoma opacum occupy the intermediate predator trophic position in a partial intraguild predation (IGP) food web and can function as keystone predators. Larval A. opacum are also found in simpler food webs lacking either top predators or shared prey.
2. We conducted an experiment where a partial IGP food web was simplified, and we measured the growth and survival of larval A. opacum in each set of food webs. Partial IGP food webs that had either a low abundance or high abundance of total prey were also simplified by independently removing top predators and/or shared prey.
3. Removing top predators always increased A. opacum survival, but removal of shared prey had no effect on A. opacum survival, regardless of total prey abundance.
4. Surprisingly, food web simplification had no effect on the growth of A. opacum when present in food webs with a low abundance of prey but had important effects on A. opacum growth in food webs with a high abundance of prey. Simplifying a partial IGP food web with a high abundance of prey reduced A. opacum growth when either top predators or shared prey were removed from the food web and the loss of top predators and shared prey influenced A. opacum growth in a non-additive fashion.
5. The non-additive response in A. opacum growth appears to be the result of supplemental prey availability augmenting the beneficial effects of top predators. Top predators had a beneficial effect on A. opacum populations by reducing the abundance of A. opacum present and thereby reducing the intensity of intraspecific competition.
6. Our study indicates that the effects of food web simplification on the performance of A. opacum are complex and depend on both how a partial IGP food web is simplified and how abundant prey are in the food web. These findings are important because they demonstrate how trophic complexity can create variation in the performance of intermediate predators that play important roles in temporary pond food webs.