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Keywords:

  • Ecological boundary;
  • ecotone;
  • edge effects;
  • habitat fragmentation;
  • predictive model;
  • resource distribution

Ecology Letters (2011) 14: 863–870

Abstract

Despite nearly 100 years of edge studies, there has been little effort to document how edge responses ‘cascade’ to impact multi-trophic food webs. We examined changes within two, four-tiered food webs located on opposite sides of a habitat edge. Based on a ‘bottom-up’ resource-based model, we predicted plant resources would decline near edges, causing similar declines in specialist herbivores and their associated predators, while a generalist predator was predicted to increase due to complementary resource use. As predicted, we found declines in both specialist herbivores and predators near edges, but, contrary to expectations, this was not driven by gradients in plant resources. Instead, the increase in generalist predators near edges offers one alternative explanation for the observed declines. Furthermore, our results suggest how recent advances in food web theory could improve resource-based edge models, and vice versa.