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Predator diversity strengthens trophic cascades in kelp forests by modifying herbivore behaviour

Authors

  • Jarrett Byrnes,

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  • John J. Stachowicz,

    1. Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, USA and Bodega Marine Lab, PO Box 247, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
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  • Kristin M. Hultgren,

    1. Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, USA and Bodega Marine Lab, PO Box 247, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
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  • A. Randall Hughes,

    1. Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, USA and Bodega Marine Lab, PO Box 247, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
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  • Suzanne V. Olyarnik,

    1. Center for Population Biology, University of California, Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis, CA 95616, USA and Bodega Marine Lab, PO Box 247, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA
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  • Carol S. Thornber

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    • Present address: Carol S. Thornber, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Rhode Island, 100 Flagg Road, Kingston, RI 02881-0816, USA


* E-mail: jebyrnes@ucdavis.edu

Abstract

Although human-mediated extinctions disproportionately affect higher trophic levels, the ecosystem consequences of declining diversity are best known for plants and herbivores. We combined field surveys and experimental manipulations to examine the consequences of changing predator diversity for trophic cascades in kelp forests. In field surveys we found that predator diversity was negatively correlated with herbivore abundance and positively correlated with kelp abundance. To assess whether this relationship was causal, we manipulated predator richness in kelp mesocosms, and found that decreasing predator richness increased herbivore grazing, leading to a decrease in the biomass of the giant kelp Macrocystis. The presence of different predators caused different herbivores to alter their behaviour by reducing grazing, such that total grazing was lowest at highest predator diversity. Our results suggest that declining predator diversity can have cascading effects on community structure by reducing the abundance of key habitat-providing species.

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