Vertebrate predators have minimal cascading effects on plant production or seed predation in an intact grassland ecosystem




Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 661–669


The strength of trophic cascades in terrestrial habitats has been the subject of considerable interest and debate. We conducted an 8-year experiment to determine how exclusion of vertebrate predators, ungulates alone (to control for ungulate exclusion from predator exclusion plots) or none of these animals influenced how strongly a three-species assemblage of rodent consumers affected plant productivity. We also examined whether predator exclusion influenced the magnitude of post-dispersal seed predation by mice. Both ungulates and rodents had strong direct effects on graminoid biomass. However, rodent impacts on plant biomass did not differ across plots with or without predators and/or ungulates. Deer mice removed more seeds from seed depots on predator exclusion plots, suggesting trait-mediated indirect effects of predators, but this short-term behavioural response did not translate into longer-term impacts on seed survival. These results suggest that vertebrate predators do not fundamentally influence primary production or seed survival in our system.