Interactive effects of productivity and predation on zooplankton diversity

16 April 2017

Asgari, Mitra; Steiner, Chris

Recent studies suggest the necessity of understanding the interactive effects of predation and productivity on species coexistence and prey diversity. Models predict that coexistence of prey species with different competitive abilities can be achieved if inferior resource competitors are less susceptible to predation and if productivity and/or predation pressure are at intermediate levels. Hence, predator effects on prey diversity are predicted to be highly context dependent: enhancing diversity from low to intermediate levels of productivity or predation and reducing diversity of prey at high levels of productivity or predation. While several studies have examined the interactive effects of herbivory and productivity on primary producer diversity, experimental studies of such effects in predator-prey systems are rare. We tested these predictions using an aquatic field mesocosm experiment in which initial density of the zooplankton predator Notonecta undulata and productivity were manipulated to test their interactive effects on diversity of seven zooplankton, cladoceran species that were common in surrounding ponds. Two productivity levels were imposed via phosphorus enrichment at levels comparable to low and intermediate levels found within neighboring natural ponds. We used open systems to allow for natural dispersal and behaviorally-mediated numerical responses by the flight-capable predator. Effects of predators on zooplankton diversity depended on productivity level. At low and high productivity, prey species richness declined while at high productivity it showed a unimodal relationship with increasing the predator density. Effects of treatments were weaker when using Pielou’s evenness index or the inverse Simpson index as measures of prey diversity. Our findings are generally consistent with model predictions in which predators can facilitate prey coexistence and diversity at intermediate levels of productivity and predation intensity. Our work also shows that the functional form of the relationship between prey diversity and predation intensity can be complex and highly dependent on environmental context.