Water availability directly determines per capita consumption at two trophic levels

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Abstract

Community ecology has long focused on energy and nutrients as currencies of species interactions. Evidence from physiological ecology and recent studies suggest that in terrestrial systems, water may influence animal behavior and global patterns of species richness. Despite these observations, water has received little attention as a currency directly influencing animal species interactions. Here, we show that the per capita interaction strength between predatory wolf spiders and their primary prey, field crickets, is strong (−0.266) when predators and prey are maintained in ambient dry conditions, but is near zero (0.001) when water is provided ad libitum. Moreover, crickets consume 31-fold more moist leaf material in ambient dry conditions, switching from old litter to moist green leaves when free water is scarce. Under dry conditions, animals may make foraging decisions based first on water needs, not energy or nutrients, suggesting strong and predictable effects of alterations in aridity on species interactions.

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