Inclusion of biotic stress (consumer pressure) alters predictions from the stress gradient hypothesis

Authors

  • Christian Smit,

    Corresponding author
    1. Environmental Sciences Group, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands
    2. Community Ecology and Conservation Ecology Group, Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Studies, University of Groningen, PO Box 14, 9750 AA Haren, The Netherlands
      *Correspondence author. E-mail: c.smit@geo.uu.nl
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  • Max Rietkerk,

    1. Environmental Sciences Group, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands
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  • Martin J. Wassen

    1. Environmental Sciences Group, Utrecht University, Heidelberglaan 2, PO Box 80115, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands
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*Correspondence author. E-mail: c.smit@geo.uu.nl

Summary

1.  The stress gradient hypothesis (SGH) predicts a shift from net negative interactions in benign environments towards net positive in harsh environments in ecological communities. While several studies found support for the SGH, others found evidence against it, leading to a debate on how nature and strength of species interactions change along stress gradients, and to calls for new empirical and theoretical work.

2.  In the latest attempt in this journal, it is successfully argued how the SGH should be expanded by considering different life strategies of species (stress tolerance versus competitive ability) and characteristics of abiotic stress (resource versus non-resource based) over wider stress gradients (opposed to low–high contrasts), but the crucial role of biotic stress by consumers is largely ignored in this refinement.

3.  We point out that consumers strongly alter the outcome of species interactions in benign and harsh environments, and show how inclusion of consumer-incurred biotic stress alters the predicted outcome of interactions along resource- and non-resource-based stress gradients for stress-tolerant and competitive benefactors and beneficiaries.

4.Synthesis. New studies should include stress gradients consisting of both abiotic and biotic components to disentangle their impacts, and to improve our understanding of how species interactions change along environmental gradients.

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