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Predator hunting mode influences patterns of prey use from grazing and epigeic food webs

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Multichannel omnivory by generalist predators, especially the use of both grazing and epigeic prey, has the potential to increase predator abundance and decrease herbivore populations. However, predator use of the epigeic web (soil surface detritus/microbe/algae consumers) varies considerably for reasons that are poorly understood. We therefore used a stable isotope approach to determine whether prey availability and predator hunting style (active hunting vs. passive web-building) impacted the degree of multichannel omnivory by the two most abundant predators on an intertidal salt marsh, both spiders. We found that carbon isotopic values of herbivores remained constant during the growing season, while values for epigeic feeders became dramatically more enriched such that values for the two webs converged in August. Carbon isotopic values for both spider species remained midway between the two webs as values for epigeic feeders shifted, indicating substantial use of prey from both food webs by both spider species. As the season progressed, prey abundance in the grazing food web increased while prey abundance in the epigeic web remained constant or declined. In response, prey consumption by the web-building spider shifted toward the grazing web to a much greater extent than did consumption by the hunting spider, possibly because passive web-capture is more responsive to changes in prey availability. Although both generalist predator species engaged in multichannel omnivory, hunting mode influenced the extent to which these predators used prey from the grazing and epigeic food webs, and could thereby influence the strength of trophic cascades in both food webs.

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We wish to thank members of the DC PIG (a plant–insect discussion group composed of members from DC-area universities and institutions), Sven Bacher, Dan Gruner, John Lill, Eric Lind, Martha Weiss, David Wise, and one anonymous reviewer for comments that improved this manuscript. Ken Able at the Rutgers University Marine Station facilitated our research at the Tuckerton field site. This research was supported in part by National Science Foundation Grants DEB-0313903 and an REU supplement awarded to R.F.D. S.M.M. was funded by the National Parks Ecological Research Fellowship Program, a partnership between the National Park Service, the Ecological Society of America and the National Park Foundation. It is funded by a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Correspondence to Gina M. Wimp.

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Robert F. Denno: Deceased.

Communicated by Sven Bacher.

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Wimp, G.M., Murphy, S.M., Lewis, D. et al. Predator hunting mode influences patterns of prey use from grazing and epigeic food webs. Oecologia 171, 505–515 (2013).

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  • Multichannel omnivory
  • Detritus
  • Predation
  • Stable isotopes
  • Trophic interactions