Subsidy from the Detrital Food Web, but Not Microhabitat Complexity, Affects the Role of Generalist Predators in an Aboveground Herbivore Food Web
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The activity and density of generalist predators, such as carabid beedes, rove beedes and spiders, may increase in response to: (1) increased availability of prey from the belowground subsystem and/ or (2) enhanced complexity of aboveground vegetation. Organic farming practices support decomposer populations and enhance habitat complexity due to an increased weed density. A response by generalist predators to such below-or aboveground changes could affect predation rates on herbivores in the aboveground food web. We tested this hypothesis in a replicated field experiment conducted in a winter wheat field, where increased predator activity could lead to improved control of herbivorous pests. In a crossed design, we increased and lowered densities of decomposer prey, and manipulated vegetation complexity using artificial plants in order to examine the effect of structural complexity in isolation from effects of plant-attracted additional prey. Isotomid Collembola exhibited lowest activity-densities (AD) in plots treated with soil insecticide and had gradually increasing AD in untreated plots and plots receiving detrital subsidies. Carabid beedes and cursorial spiders did not respond to increased availability of isotomid prey, and they unexpectedly displayed higher AD in the structurally less-complex plots. Aphid density mirrored the positive response of isotomids to detrital subsidies, suggesting that aphids benefited from reduced predation due to predators switching to abundant prey in the decomposer subsystem. The absence of a numerical response by surface-active predators apparendy strengthened this indirect effect of isotomids on aphids. Our results suggest that indirect predator-mediated prey-prey interactions can reduce beneficial effects of detrital subsidies on pest suppression. We further demonstrated that generalist predators may not per se benefit from structural complexity. Both results document the challenges associated with management practices that support generalist predators, as these measures may not necessarily improve herbivore suppression.