Brevia

Predators Accelerate Nutrient Cycling in a Bromeliad Ecosystem

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Science  10 Nov 2006:
Vol. 314, Issue 5801, pp. 963
DOI: 10.1126/science.1132598

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Abstract

Conventional ecological theory predicts that predators affect nutrient cycling by decreasing the abundance or activity of prey. By using a predator-detritivore-detritus food chain in bromeliads, we show that predators can increase nutrient cycling by a previously undescribed, but broadly applicable, mechanism: reducing nutrient export by prey emigration. Contrary to expectations, predation on detritivores increases detrital nitrogen uptake by bromeliads. Predation reduces detritivore emergence and hence export of nitrogen from the system. Detritivores therefore benefit their host plant, but only when predators are present. More generally, our results show that predator loss or extinction can dramatically and unexpectedly affect ecosystem functioning.

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