Predator–prey interactions in a grassland food chain vary with temperature and food quality


A. N. Laws, Div. of Biology, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan, KS 66506-4901, USA. E-mail:


Because species interactions are often context-dependent, abiotic factors such as temperature and biotic factors such as food quality may alter species interactions with potential consequences to ecosystem structure and function. For example, altered predator–prey interactions may influence the dynamics of trophic cascades, affecting net primary production. In a three-year field experiment, we manipulated a plant–grasshopper–spider food chain in mesic tallgrass prairie to investigate the effects of temperature and food quality on grasshopper performance, and to understand the direct and indirect tritrophic interactions that contribute to trophic cascades. Because spiders are active at cooler temperatures than grasshoppers in our system, we hypothesized that predator effects would be strongest in cooled treatments, and weakest in warmed treatments. Grasshopper spider interactions were highly context-dependent and varied significantly with food quality, temperature treatment and year. Spiders most often reduced grasshopper survival in the cooled and ambient temperature treatments, but had little to no effect on grasshopper survival in the warmed treatments, as hypothesized. In some years, plants compensated for grasshopper herbivory and trophic cascades were not observed despite significant effects of predators on grasshopper survival. However, in the year they were observed, trophic cascades only occurred in cooled treatments where predator effects on grasshoppers were strongest. Predicting ecosystem responses to climate change will require an understanding of how temperature influences species interactions. Our results demonstrate that changes in daily temperature regimes can alter predator–prey interactions among arthropods with consequences for ecosystem processes such as primary production and the relative importance of top–down and bottom–up processes.