Planktonic dispersal dampens temporal trophic cascades in pond metacommunities




Trophic cascades, in which changes in predation affect the biomass of lower trophic levels, vary substantially in strength and incidence. Most work to explain this variation has focused on local factors and has ignored larger regional effects. To study how metacommunity dynamics can alter trophic cascades, we constructed mesocosm metacommunities consisting of three pond communities with heterogeneous levels of fish predation and examined how planktonic dispersal rate (5–140% per week) affected biomass partitioning. Two of the three communities differed continually in the occurrence of fish and supported different but constant environments in a ‘spatial trophic cascade,’ while the third community supported temporally variable fish occurrence in a ‘temporal trophic cascade.’ We find that the presence, but the not the magnitude, of dispersal dampens temporal trophic cascades through an increase in grazer biomass. In contrast, dispersal has no effect on the strength of spatial cascades due to strong sorting pressures in the communities with constant presence or absence of fish as top predators.