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Oecologia. 2008 Mar;155(3):605-17. Epub 2007 Dec 14.

Utilization of prey from the decomposer system by generalist predators of grassland.

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  • 1Technische Universität Darmstadt, Institut für Zoologie, Schnittspahnstrasse 3, 64287, Darmstadt, Germany.


We investigated the linkage between the detrital subsystem and generalist predators of meadow ecosystems by manipulating prey availability in two different ways: we increased resource availability for the decomposer subsystem and thereby decomposer prey by adding mulch materials (detritus enhancement), and we added fruitflies (Drosophila melanogaster, Diptera; prey enhancement) to fenced plots. Both supplemented materials significantly differed in their (13)C/(12)C and (15)N/(14)N ratios from those of the natural litter. We measured density responses of detritivorous, herbivorous and predaceous arthropods to the increased resource supply. We used ratios of natural stable isotopes of N and C in arthropod tissues to trace the flux from the added resources to consumers and to relate density responses of consumers to changes in resource supply. Effects of resource enhancement propagated through at least two trophic levels, resulting in higher densities of major decomposer and predator taxa. Effects of detritus enhancement were much stronger than those of prey enhancement. Signatures of delta(13)C proved density responses of Collembola taxa to be related to the added mulch materials. Among generalist predators, densities of juvenile wolf spiders (Lycosidae) responded more to detritus-enhancement than to prey-enhancement treatments. In contrast, the density of the web-building linyphiid and the non-web gnaphosid spiders remained unaffected. Each spider taxon, including those which did not respond numerically, was significantly enriched in (13)C in detritus-enhancement treatments, suggesting that they gain energy from the decomposer system. Numbers of herbivores-cicadellids and aphids-were similar in each of the treatments, indicating that they were unaffected by changes in predator density. Our results indicate that the lack of a numerical response to resource supplementation is not necessarily due to the absence of a trophic linkage, but may be caused by compensatory changes in mortality factors such as cannibalism and intraguild predation.

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