Predation on mutualists can reduce the strength of trophic cascades


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Ecologists have put forth several mechanisms to predict the strength of predator effects on producers (a trophic cascade). We suggest a novel mechanism – in systems in which mutualists of plants are present and important, predators can have indirect negative effects on producers through their consumption of mutualists. The strength of predator effects on producers will depend on their relative consumption of mutualists and antagonists, and on the relative importance of each to producer population dynamics. In a meta-analysis of experiments that examine the effects of predator reduction on the pollination and reproductive success of plants, we found that the indirect negative effects of predators on plants are quite strong. Most predator removal experiments measure the strength of predator effects on producers through the antagonist pathway; we suggest that a more complete understanding of the role of predators will be achieved by simultaneously considering the effects of predators on plant mutualists.