Predators in low arctic tundra and their impact on community structure and dynamics

University dissertation from Umeå : Ekologi och geovetenskap

Abstract: The abundance of predators and their impact on ecosystem dynamics is a vividly discussed topic in current ecology. In my studies, incorporating field observations, field experiments and theoretical modeling, I explored the importance of predators and predation in a low arctic tundra ecosystem in northern Norway. This involved observing the abundance and spatial activity of predators (raptors and small mustelids); manipulating the abundance of predators (spiders and birds) in an arthropod community; and exploring the theoretical consequences of intraguild predation on the coexistence among predators.The results show that predation is important both in the arthropod assemblage and, depending on the productivity of the community, in the vertebrate assemblage. In arthropod communities predators are at least as abundant as their prey, whereas in the vertebrate part of ecosystem, predators are substantially less abundant than their prey. Still, in both cases predators had strong impact on their prey, influencing the abundance of prey and the species composition of prey assemblages. The impact of predation cascaded to the plant community both in the reticulate and complex arthropod food web and in the linear food chain-like vertebrate community. In the vertebrate-based community we could even observe the long time scale effect on plant community composition.Within the predator community, exploitation competition and intraguild predation were the structuring forces. As the arthropod communities consist of predators with different sizes, intraguild predation is an energetically important interaction for top predators. As a consequence, they reduce the abundance of intermediate predators and the impact of intermediate predators on other prey groups. Moreover, being supported by intermediate predators, top predators can have stronger impact themselves on other prey groups.In vertebrate communities, intraguild predation seems to be unimportant as energetic link, instead it manifests as an extreme version of interference competition. Therefore intraguild predation reduces the likelihood of coexistence, as it is due limited prey diversity and intense exploitative competition already precarious in the low arctic tundra.In conclusion, predators have strong impact on their prey, especially in the more productive parts of the low arctic tundra. This applies even to the food webs with complex and reticulate structure, and these effects carry through the community both in the short time scale of population growth and on the long time scale of population generations.

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