From lynx spiders to cotton: Behaviourally mediated predator effects over four trophic levels

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Abstract

Food web studies often examine density and behaviourally mediated effects of predators on herbivores, but are less likely to assess the plant targeted by the herbivore. We conducted a study that incorporated four trophic levels examining the effect of two generalist predators (damsel bugs, Nabis kinbergii Reuter; and lynx spiders, Oxyopes molarius L. Koch) on damage to cotton bolls caused by green mirids (Creontiades dilutus (Stål)). First we tested whether lynx spiders and damsel bugs could control mirid numbers and cotton boll damage in field cages. We found that in cages containing mirids and only lynx spiders, lynx spiders reduced both mirid numbers and boll damage. However, in cages which contained mirids and both predators (lynx spiders and damsel bugs) only mirid numbers were reduced. To explain the negative effect of damsel bugs on boll damage, we examined the interactions between lynx spiders, damsel bugs and mirids. We found that lynx spiders were better mirid predators than damsel bugs, and that lynx spiders attacked damsel bugs, but not vice versa. Behaviourally, mirids responded to increasing predator pressure regardless of whether the predators were lynx spiders or damsel bugs. However, damsel bugs seemed to alter the behaviour of lynx spiders because in their presence, a higher proportion of lynx spiders moved to the top of the plant, towards the damsel bugs but away from the bolls found lower on the plant. These results suggest that the most likely explanation for the increase in boll damage in the presence of damsel bugs was that lynx spiders moved to the top of the plant in the presence of damsel bugs, which then exposed the bolls lower down on the plant to mirid attack. This work emphasizes the importance of behaviourally mediated effects in food webs extending over four trophic levels.

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