Predator impacts on stream benthic prey

  • Wooster D
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The impact that predators have on benthic, macroinvertebrate prey density in streams is unclear. While some studies show a strong effect of predators on prey density, others show little or no effect. Two factors appear to influence the detection of predator impact on prey density in streams. First, many field studies have small sample sizes and thus might be unable to detect treatment effects. Second, streams contain two broad classes of predators, invertebrates and vertebrates, which might have different impacts on prey density for a variety of reasons, including availability of refuge for prey and prey emigration responses to the two types of predators. In addition, predatory vertebrates have more complex prey communities than predatory invertebrates; this complexity might reduce the impact that predatory vertebrates have on prey because of indirect effects. I conducted a meta-analysis on the results of field studies that manipulate predator density in enclosures to determine (1) if predators have a significant impact on benthic prey density in streams, (2) if the impacts that predatory invertebrates and vertebrates have differ, and (3) if predatory vertebrates have different impacts on predatory prey versus herbivorous prey. The results of the meta-analysis suggest that on average predators have a significant negative effect on prey density, predatory invertebrates have a significantly stronger impact than predatory vertebrates, and predatory vertebrates do not differ in their impact on predatory versus herbivorous invertebrate prey. Three methodological variables (mesh size of enclosures, size of enclosures, and experimental duration) were examined to determine if cross correlations exist that may explain the differences in impact between predatory invertebrates and vertebrates. No correlation exists between mesh size and predator impact. Over all predators, no correlation exists between experimental duration and predator impact; however, within predatory invertebrates a correlation does exist between these variables. Also, a correlation was found between enclosure size and predator impact. This correlation potentially explains the difference in impact between predatory invertebrates and predatory vertebrates. Results of the meta-analysis suggest two important areas for future research: (1) manipulate both types of predators within the same system, and (2) examine their impacts on the same spatial scale.

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  • David Wooster

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