Consumer effects decline with prey diversity


  • Helmut Hillebrand,

    Corresponding author
    1. Leibniz-Institut für Meerenwissenschaften at the University of Kiel, Section for Marine Ecology, Düsternbrooker Weg 20, D-24105 Kiel, Germany
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  • Bradley J. Cardinale

    1. Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA
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While consumer species diversity is known to influence the capture of limited resources, little is known about how prey diversity impacts the transfer of energy and matter among trophic levels. Here, we perform a meta-analysis of experiments that have examined the impact of grazers on the biomass of periphytic algae to test the hypothesis that the magnitude of consumer (grazer) effects on prey (algae) depends on the species diversity of the prey assemblage. The analysis reveals that consumer effects tend to decrease as the diversity of a prey assemblage increases. This trend is robust for several different, yet complementary indices of grazer effect size and algal diversity. The trend also remains significant after statistically controlling for a variety of factors that can covary with prey diversity among studies. We discuss several possible mechanisms for the documented pattern, such as diversity enhancing the probability of inedibility and of positive interactions.