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PLoS One. 2011 Apr 19;6(4):e18879. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018879.

Eco-evolutionary trophic dynamics: loss of top predators drives trophic evolution and ecology of prey.

Author information

  • 1Duke University Marine Laboratory, Beaufort, North Carolina, United States of America. eric.palkovacs@duke.edu

Abstract

Ecosystems are being altered on a global scale by the extirpation of top predators. The ecological effects of predator removal have been investigated widely; however, predator removal can also change natural selection acting on prey, resulting in contemporary evolution. Here we tested the role of predator removal on the contemporary evolution of trophic traits in prey. We utilized a historical introduction experiment where Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) were relocated from a site with predatory fishes to a site lacking predators. To assess the trophic consequences of predator release, we linked individual morphology (cranial, jaw, and body) to foraging performance. Our results show that predator release caused an increase in guppy density and a "sharpening" of guppy trophic traits, which enhanced food consumption rates. Predator release appears to have shifted natural selection away from predator escape ability and towards resource acquisition ability. Related diet and mesocosm studies suggest that this shift enhances the impact of guppies on lower trophic levels in a fashion nuanced by the omnivorous feeding ecology of the species. We conclude that extirpation of top predators may commonly select for enhanced feeding performance in prey, with important cascading consequences for communities and ecosystems.

PMID:
21526156
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3079755
Free PMC Article
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