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Oecologia. 2008 May;156(2):431-40. doi: 10.1007/s00442-008-1004-3.

Predator effects on prey population dynamics in open systems.

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Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


Animal population dynamics in open systems are affected not only by agents of mortality and the influence of species interactions on behavior and life histories, but also by dispersal and recruitment. We used an extensive data set to compare natural loss rates of two mayfly species that co-occur in high-elevation streams varying in predation risk, and experience different abiotic conditions during larval development. Our goals were to generate hypotheses relating predation to variation in prey population dynamics and to evaluate alternative mechanisms to explain such variation. While neither loss rates nor abundance of the species that develops during snowmelt (Baetis bicaudatus) varied systematically with fish, loss rates of the species that develops during baseflow (Baetis B) were higher in streams containing brook trout than streams without fish; and surprisingly, larvae of this species were most abundant in trout streams. This counter-intuitive pattern could not be explained by a trophic cascade, because densities of intermediate predators (stoneflies) did not differ between fish and fishless streams and predation by trout on stoneflies was negligible. A statistical model estimated that higher recruitment and accelerated development enables Baetis B to maintain larger populations in trout streams despite higher mortality from predation. Experimental estimates suggested that predation by trout potentially accounts for natural losses of Baetis B, but not Baetis bicaudatus. Predation by stoneflies on Baetis is negligible in fish streams, but could make an important contribution to observed losses of both species in fishless streams. Non-predatory sources of loss were higher for B. bicaudatus in trout streams, and for Baetis B in fishless streams. We conclude that predation alone cannot explain variation in population dynamics of either species; and the relative importance of predation is species- and environment-specific compared to non-predatory losses, such as other agents of mortality and non-consumptive effects of predators.

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