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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2002 Mar 19;99(6):3678-83. Epub 2002 Mar 12.

Community-wide distribution of predator-prey interaction strength in kelp forests.

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  • 1Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA 92093-0202, USA. esala@ucsd.edu


The strength of interactions between predators and their prey (interaction strength) varies enormously among species within ecological communities. Understanding the community-wide distribution of interaction strengths is vital, given that communities dominated by weak interactions may be more stable and resistant to invasion. In the oceans, previous studies have reported log-normal distributions of per capita interaction strength. We estimated the distribution of predator-prey interaction strengths within a subtidal speciose herbivore community (45 species). Laboratory experiments were used to determine maximum per capita interaction strengths for eight species of herbivores (including amphipods, isopods, gastropods, and sea urchins) that graze on giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) microscopic stages. We found that maximum per capita interaction strength saturated as a function of individual herbivore biomass, likely caused by predator/prey size thresholds. Incorporating this nonlinearity, we predicted maximum per capita interaction strength for the remaining herbivore species. The resulting distribution of per capita interaction strengths was bimodal, in striking contrast to previous reports from other communities. Although small herbivores often had per capita interaction strengths similar to larger herbivores, their tendency to have greater densities in the field increased their potential impact as grazers. These results indicate that previous conclusions about the distributions of interaction strength in natural communities are not general, and that intermediate-sized predators can under realistic circumstances represent the most effective consumers in natural communities.

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