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Prey diversity effects on ecosystem functioning depend on consumer identity and prey composition


Consumer diversity effects on ecosystem functioning are highly context dependent and are determined by consumer specialization and other consumer and prey specific traits such as growth and grazing rates. Despite complex reciprocal interactions between consumers and their prey, few experimental studies have focused on prey diversity effects on consumer dynamics and trophic transfer. In microbial microcosms, we investigated effects of algal prey diversity (one, two and four species) on the production, evenness and grazing rates of 4 ciliate consumers, differing in grazing preferences and rates. Prey diversity increased prey biovolume in the absence of consumers and had opposing effects on different consumers, depending on their specialization and their preferred prey. Consumers profited from prey mixtures compared to monocultures of non-preferred prey, but responded negatively if preferred prey species were offered together with other species. Prey diversity increased consumer evenness by preventing dominance of specific consumers, demonstrating that the loss of prey species may have cascading effects resulting in reduced consumer diversity. Our study emphasizes that not only the degree of specialization but also the selectivity for certain prey species within the dietary niche may alter the consequences of changing prey diversity in a food web context.

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This work was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG, MO 1931/1-1, MO 1931/3-1).

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Author contribution statement

HH and SDM conceived and designed the experiment. DW and JF conducted the experiment. HH, DW and SDM analyzed the data. DW and SDM wrote the manuscript, other authors provided content-related and editorial advice.

Correspondence to Stefanie D. Moorthi.

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Communicated by Joel Trexler.

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Wohlgemuth, D., Filip, J., Hillebrand, H. et al. Prey diversity effects on ecosystem functioning depend on consumer identity and prey composition. Oecologia 184, 653–661 (2017).

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  • Prey diversity
  • Consumer specialization
  • Edibility
  • Evenness
  • Grazing impact