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Ecology. 2007 Aug;88(8):2005-14.

Tritrophic effects of birds and ants on a canopy food web, tree growth, and phytochemistry.

Author information

  • 1Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0334, USA.

Erratum in

  • Ecology. 2008 Mar;89(3):889.


Insectivorous birds and ants co-occur in most terrestrial communities, and theory predicts that emergent properties (i.e., nonadditive effects) can determine their combined influence on arthropods and plants. In a three-year factorial experiment, I investigated whether the effects of birds on pine and its arthropods differed based on the presence of ants that were predators of most arthropods, but mutualists with tended aphid species. Birds and ants reduced the abundance of most herbivorous and carnivorous arthropods in an additive fashion, with the effects of ants being stronger than those of birds. In sharp contrast, the opposing influences of birds and ants on tended aphid species interacted strongly; ants only increased tended aphid abundance in the absence of birds, while birds only reduced their abundance in the presence of ants. This interaction was mirrored in total herbivore abundance because tended aphids dominated the herbivore community. I develop a novel lexicon to discuss the emergent properties from these effects of opposing sign (predation, mutualism). Despite having emergent effects on herbivores, birds indirectly increased pine wood and foliage growth to a similar extent whether or not ants were present, while ants had no detectable effects. Birds also indirectly increased the abundance of some pine phloem monoterpenes, but these effects differed based on the presence or absence of ants. Thus, I report on a novel yet possibly widespread indirect interaction between intraguild predators, herbivore mutualists, and plant traits (growth, secondary chemistry) mediated through a species-rich community of arthropods.

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