Fear of Predation Slows Plant-Litter Decomposition

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Science  15 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6087, pp. 1434-1438
DOI: 10.1126/science.1220097

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Aboveground consumers are believed to affect ecosystem functioning by regulating the quantity and quality of plant litter entering the soil. We uncovered a pathway whereby terrestrial predators regulate ecosystem processes via indirect control over soil community function. Grasshopper herbivores stressed by spider predators have a higher body carbon-to-nitrogen ratio than do grasshoppers raised without spiders. This change in elemental content does not slow grasshopper decomposition but perturbs belowground community function, decelerating the subsequent decomposition of plant litter. This legacy effect of predation on soil community function appears to be regulated by the amount of herbivore protein entering the soil.

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