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Oecologia. 2003 Jul;136(2):309-16. Epub 2003 May 16.

Seasonal variation in top-down and bottom-up processes in a grassland arthropod community.

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Department of Biology, Hendrix College, 1600 Washington Ave, AR 72032, USA.


Both top-down and bottom-up processes are common in terrestrial ecosystems, but how these opposing forces interact and vary over time is poorly understood. We tested the variation of these processes over seasonal time in a natural temperate zone grassland, a field site characterized by strong seasonal changes in abiotic and biotic conditions. Separate factorial experiments manipulating nutrients and cursorial spiders were performed in the wet and dry seasons. We also performed a water-addition experiment during the summer (dry season) to determine the degree of water limitation during this time. In the spring, nutrient addition increased plant growth and carnivore abundance, indicating a bottom-up control process. Among herbivores, sap-feeders were significantly enhanced while grazers significantly declined resulting in no net change in herbivore abundance. In the summer, water limitation was predominant increasing plants and all herbivores while nutrient (N) effects were non-significant. Top-down processes were present only in the spring season and only impacted the guild of grazing herbivores. These results show that bottom-up limitation is present throughout the season in this grassland, although the specific limiting resource changes as the season progresses. Bottom-up processes affected all trophic levels and many different guilds, while top-down effects were limited to a select group of herbivores and did not extend to the plant trophic level. Our results show that the relative strengths of top-down and bottom-up processes can shift over relatively short periods of time in habitats with a strong seasonal component.

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