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Keywords:

  • Community structure;
  • endophyte;
  • food web;
  • indirect effects;
  • insect;
  • Lolium arundinaceum;
  • Neotyphodium;
  • ordination;
  • rarefaction;
  • symbiosis

Abstract

Ecological theory holds that competition and predation are the most important biotic forces affecting the composition of communities. Here, we expand this framework by demonstrating that mutualism can fundamentally alter community and food web structure. In large, replicated field plots, we manipulated the mutualism between a dominant plant (Lolium arundinaceum) and symbiotic fungal endophyte (Neotyphodium coenophialum). The presence of the mutualism reduced arthropod abundance up to 70%, reduced arthropod diversity nearly 20%, shifted arthropod species composition relative to endophyte-free plots and suppressed the biomass and richness of other plant species in the community. Herbivorous arthropods were more strongly affected than carnivores, and for both herbivores and carnivores, effects of the mutualism appeared to propagate indirectly via organisms occurring more basally in the food web. The influence of the mutualism was as great or greater than previously documented effects of competition and predation on arthropod communities. Our work demonstrates that a keystone mutualism can significantly reduce arthropod biodiversity at a broad community scale.