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Tree litter identity and predator density control prey and predator demographic parameters in a Mediterranean litter-based multi-trophic system

  • Aupic-Samain, Adriane
  • Baldy, Virginie
  • Lecareux, Caroline
  • Fernandez, Catherine
  • Santonja, Mathieu
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2019
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Plant litter decomposition is an essential process of ecosystem functioning, driven by a complex soil food web. The identity and density of the predators, as well as the quality and quantity of litter, could conjointly affect the strength of trophic interactions within a soil food web. Pine and oak are dominant tree species in temperate and Mediterranean forests and, although they exhibit distinct litter characteristics, no previous study attempted to decipher how these two litters can affect a litter-based multi-trophic system with varying predator density. Using a microcosm experiment, we aimed at understanding how different densities of a predatory Acari (Stratiolaelaps scimitus) and two Mediterranean litter species (Quercuspubescens and Pinus halepensis) may impact the demographic parameters of the predatory Acari, its Collembola prey (Folsomia candida) and the fungal biomass associated with litter. We did not observe any interactive effect of litter identity and predator density on both predator and prey demographic parameters. Survival and fecundity rates of the predator and its prey decreased at high predator density. However, demographic parameters of the predator and its prey were differentially affected by litter identity, with greater prey demographic parameters in Quercus litter and, in the opposite, greater predator demographic parameters in Pinus litter, probably due to differences in physical characteristics providing more or less refuge for the prey. We also observed a higher increase in fungal biomass in Pinus compared to Quercus litter, i.e. the litter with the fungivorous Collembola abundance reduced by the predatory Acari. Litter identity could thus strongly regulate these tri-trophic interactions (Fungi – fungivorous Collembola – predatory Acari) in forest ecosystems. Finally, the implications of our findings could be important as the distribution area of oak and pine forests may be altered in response to climate change with then potentially strong cascading effects on soil organisms and the processes they drive.

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