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Habitat subdivision causes changes in food web structure


Marcel Holyoak E-mail:


Theory suggests that the response of communities to habitat subdivision depends on both species’ characteristics and the extent to which species interact. For species with dynamics that are independent of other species, subdivision is expected to promote regional extinction as populations become small and isolated. By contrast, intermediate levels of subdivision can facilitate persistence of strongly interacting species. Consistent with this prediction, experimental subdivision lengthened persistence of some species, altering the extent of food web collapse through extinction. Extended persistence was associated with immigration rescuing a basal prey species from local extinction. As predicted by food web theory, habitat subdivision reduced population density of a top predator. Removal of this top predator from undivided microcosms increased the abundance of two other predator species, and these changes paralleled those produced by habitat subdivision. These results show that species interactions structured this community, and illustrate the need for investigations of other communities.