Wednesday, August 4, 2010 - 9:00 AM

OOS 25-4: Tri-trophic dynamics in an herbivore-protection mutualism

Manuel A. Morales1, William F. Morris2, and William G. Wilson2. (1) Williams College, (2) Duke University

Background/Question/Methods Understanding the relative effect of top predators and primary producers on intermediate trophic levels is a key question in ecology. Most previous work, however, has not considered either realistic nonlinearities in feedback between trophic levels or the effect of mutualists on trophic cascades. Here, we develop a realistic model for a protection mutualism that explicitly includes interactions between a protected herbivore and both its food plant and generalist predators and parametrize the model using data from an ant-protection mutualism.

Results/Conclusions Our model shows that by reducing the impact of predators, protection by mutualists can allow herbivores to exert strong negative effects on their host plants, which in turn can lead to repeated cycles of overexploitation and recovery. Our empirical results confirm that protection mutualism can exacerbate the negative impact of herbivores on host plants, and suggest that it may be essential to explicitly include dynamical feedback between plants and herbivores to fully understand the population and community dynamical consequences of protection mutualism.