• Context-dependent effects of predator removal from experimental microcosm communities

      Worsfold, Nicholas T.; Warren, Philip H.; Petchey, Owen L. (Nordic Ecological Society, 2009)
      The loss of a predator from an ecological community can cause large changes in community structure and ecosystem processes, or have very little consequence for the remaining species and ecosystem. Understanding when and why the loss of a predator causes large changes in community structure and ecosystem processes is critical for understanding the functional consequences of biodiversity loss. We used experimental microbial communities to investigate how the removal of a large generalist predator affected the extinction frequency, population abundance and total biomass of its prey. We removed this predator in the presence or absence of an alternative, more specialist, predator in order to determine whether the specialist predator affected the outcome of the initial species removal. Removal of the large generalist predator altered some species’ populations but many were unaffected and no secondary extinctions were observed. The specialist predator, though rare, altered the response of the prey community to the removal of the large generalist predator. In the absence of the specialist predator, the effects of the removal were only measurable at the level of individual species. However, when the specialist predator was present, the removal of the large generalist predator affected the total biomass of prey species. The results demonstrate that the effect of species loss from high trophic levels may be very context-dependent, as rare species can have disproportionately large effects in food webs.