Cascading effects of insectivorous birds and bats in tropical coffee plantations


  • Corresponding Editor: I. Perfecto.


The loss of apex predators is known to have reverberating consequences for ecosystems, but how changes in broader predator assemblages affect vital ecosystem functions and services is largely unknown. Predators and their prey form complex interaction networks, in which predators consume not only herbivores but also other predators. Resolving these interactions will be essential for predicting changes in many important ecosystem functions, such as the control of damaging crop pests. Here, we examine how birds, bats, and arthropods interact to determine herbivorous arthropod abundance and leaf damage in Costa Rican coffee plantations. In an exclosure experiment, we found that birds and bats reduced non-flying arthropod abundance by ∼35% and ∼25%, respectively. In contrast, birds and bats increased the abundance of flying arthropods, probably by consuming spiders. The frequency of this intraguild predation differed between birds and bats, with cascading consequences for coffee shrubs. Excluding birds caused a greater increase in herbivorous arthropod abundance than excluding bats, leading to increased coffee leaf damage. Excluding bats caused an increase in spiders and other predatory arthropods, increasing the ratio of predators to herbivores in the arthropod community. Bats, therefore, did not provide benefits to coffee plants. Leaf damage on coffee was low, and probably did not affect coffee yields. Bird-mediated control of herbivores, however, may aid coffee shrubs in the long term by preventing pest outbreaks. Regardless, our results demonstrate how complex, cascading interactions between predators and herbivores may impact plants and people.