“Predator persistence through variability of resource productivity in tritrophic systems”

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Floor H. Soudijn and André M. de Roos

Resource variability promotes species persistence at higher trophic levels

Abstract

The trophic structure of species communities depends on the energy transfer between trophic levels. Primary productivity varies strongly through time, challenging the persistence of species at higher trophic levels. Yet, resource variability has mostly been studied in systems with only one or two trophic levels. We test the effect of variability in resource productivity in a tritrophic model system, including a resource, size-structured consumer and size-specific predator. The model complies with fundamental principles of mass conservation and, the body-size dependence of individual-level energetics and predator-prey interactions. Surprisingly, we find that resource variability may promote predator persistence. The positive effect of variability on the predator arises through periods with starvation mortality of juvenile prey, which reduces the intraspecific competition in the prey population. With increasing variability in productivity and starvation mortality in the juvenile prey, the prey availability increases in the size range preferred by the predator. The positive effect of prey mortality on the trophic transfer efficiency depends on the biologically realistic consideration of body-size- and food-dependent functions for growth and reproduction in our model. Our findings show that variability may promote the trophic transfer efficiency, indicating that environmental variability may sustain species at higher trophic levels in natural ecosystems. Read the Article