Stronger predation in the tropics shapes species richness patterns in marine communities

  • Freestone A
  • Osman R
  • Ruiz G
 et al. 
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Species interactions are widely assumed to be stronger at lower latitudes, but surprisingly few experimental studies test this hypothesis, and none ties these processes to observed patterns of species richness across latitude. We report here the first experimental field test that predation is both stronger and has a disproportionate effect on species richness in the tropics relative to the temperate zone. We conducted predator-exclusion experiments on communities of sessile marine invertebrates in four regions, which span 32 degrees latitude, in the western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Over a three-month timescale, predation had no effect on species richness in the temperate zone. In the tropics, however, communities were from two to over ten times more species-rich in the absence of predators than when predators were present. While micro-and macro-predators likely compete for the limited prey resource in the tropics, micropredators alone were able to exert as much pressure on the invertebrate communities as the full predator community. This result highlights the extent to which exposure to even a subset of the predator guild can significantly impact species richness in the tropics. Patterns were consistent in analyses that included relative and total species abundances. Higher species richness in the absence of predators in the tropics was also observed when species occurrences were pooled across two larger spatial scales, site and region, demonstrating a consistent scaling relationship. These experimental results show that predation can both limit local species abundances and shape patterns of regional coexistence in the tropics. When preestablished diverse tropical communities were then exposed to predation for different durations, ranging from one to several days, species richness was always reduced. These findings confirmed that impacts of predation in the tropics are strong and consistent, even in more established communities. Our results offer empirical support for the long-held prediction that predation pressure is stronger at lower latitudes. Furthermore, we demonstrate the magnitude to which variation in predation pressure can contribute to the maintenance of tropical species diversity.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Biotic interactions
  • Coexistence
  • Diversity
  • Latitude
  • Local
  • Marine invertebrates
  • Predation
  • Regional
  • Scale
  • Species richness
  • Temperate
  • Tropic

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  • Amy L. Freestone

  • Richard W. Osman

  • Gregory M. Ruiz

  • Mark E. Torchin

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