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Predator body sizes and habitat preferences predict predation rates in an agroecosystem

Abstract : Top-down control of pest populations by their natural enemies is a crucial ecosystem service supporting agricultural production. The relationship between predator community composition and predation rates of pests remains poorly investigated. A deeper understanding of the processes shaping interaction strength in agroecosystems is needed if we are to accurately predict natural pest control services. Functional traits in a community can provide insights into processes shaping community assembly and ecosystem functioning. Functional diversity indices can be constructed from a single trait, such as body length, or from the integration of multiple traits, such as body length, hunting mode and habitat preference. However, their performance in predicting ecosystem functioning and services remains largely unexplored. We used empirical data replicated at landscape scales to examine which component of ground-dwelling predator community structure (activity-density, species richness, evenness, taxonomic distinctness and functional diversity) of spiders, carabids and staphylinids best predicted predation rates of aphids in spring cereals. Functional diversity explained a greater part of variation in predation rates than any other taxonomic or activity-density component. Among the indices for functional diversity, single-trait indices better predicted variation in aphid predation rates compared with multiple-trait indices. In particular, we found that the community-average value of body-size of ground-dwelling predators was negatively related to predation rates of aphids, whereas the proportion of spiders with a preference for arable land was positively related to predation rates. Additional analyses of body-size distributions of ground-dwelling predators suggested that intraguild predation was a key process shaping the relationship between predator community composition and the level of aphid pest control. Considering the functional trait composition of communities provides a more mechanistic understanding of the processes shaping the strength of trophic interactions in terrestrial ecosystems, thus improving predictive power. Body-size distribution and habitat preference appear to be particularly valuable in predicting the level of natural pest control by ground-dwelling predators in an agroecosystem.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 7:19:15 AM
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Adrien Rusch, Klaus Birkhofer, Riccardo Bommarco, Henrik G. Smith, Barbara Ekbom. Predator body sizes and habitat preferences predict predation rates in an agroecosystem. Basic and Applied Ecology, Elsevier, 2015, 16 (3), pp.250-259. ⟨10.1016/j.baae.2015.02.003⟩. ⟨hal-02631129⟩

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