Herbivore identity mediates the strength of trophic cascades on individual plants

van Veen, F.J.F; Sanders, Dirk (2013). Herbivore identity mediates the strength of trophic cascades on individual plants. Ecosphere, 4(5)(64), pp. 1-12. Ecological Society of America 10.1890/ES13-00067.1

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The strength of top-down indirect effects of carnivores on plants (trophic cascades) varies greatly and may depend on the identity of the intermediate (herbivore) species. If the effect strength is linked to functional traits of the herbivores then this would allow for more general predictions. Due to the generally sub-lethal effects of herbivory in terrestrial systems, trophic cascades manifest themselves in the first instance in the fitness of individual plants, affecting both their numerical and genetic contributions to the population. We directly compare the indirect predator effects on growth and reproductive output of individual Vicia faba plants mediated by the presence of two aphid species: Acyrtosiphon pisum is characterised by a boom and bust strategy whereby colonies grow fast and overexploit their host plant individual while Megoura viciae appear to follow a more prudent strategy that avoids over-exploitation and death of the host plant.Plants in the field were infested with A. pisum, M. viciae or both and half the plants were protected from predators. Exposure to predators had a strong impact on the biomass of individual plants and the strength of this effect differed significantly between the different herbivore treatments.A. pisum had a greater direct impact on plants and this was coupled with a significantly stronger indirect predator effect on plant biomass.Although the direct impact of predators was strongest on M. viciae, this was not transmitted to the plant level, indicating that the predator-prey interactions strength is not as important as the plant-herbivore link for the magnitude of the indirect predator impact. At the individual plant level, the indirect predator effect was purely due to consumptive effects on herbivore densities with no evidence for increased herbivore dispersal in response to presence of predators. The nature of plant-herbivore interactions is the key to terrestrial trophic cascade strength. The two herbivores that we compared were similar in feeding mode and body size but differed their way how they exploit host plants, which was the important trait explaining the strength of the trophic cascade.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Ecology and Evolution (IEE)

UniBE Contributor:

Sanders, Dirk


500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology




Ecological Society of America




Alexander Strauss

Date Deposited:

12 Apr 2014 10:40

Last Modified:

10 Feb 2015 14:24

Publisher DOI:






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