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Physiological Stress as a Fundamental Mechanism Linking Predation to Ecosystem Functioning

Dror Hawlena and Oswald J. Schmitz
The American Naturalist
Vol. 176, No. 5 (November 2010), pp. 537-556
DOI: 10.1086/656495
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/656495
Page Count: 20
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Physiological Stress as a Fundamental Mechanism Linking Predation to Ecosystem Functioning
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Abstract

Abstract: We present a framework to explain how prey stress responses to predation can resolve context dependency in ecosystem properties and functions such as food chain length, secondary production, elemental stoichiometry, and cycling. We first describe the major nonspecific physiological stress mechanisms and their ecologically relevant consequences. We next synthesize the evidence for prey physiological responses to predation risk and demonstrate that they are similar across taxa and fit well within the general stress paradigm. We then illustrate the utility of our idea by applying our understanding of the ecological consequences of stress to explain how herbivore‐prey physiological antipredator responses affect ecosystem dynamics. We hypothesize that stressed herbivores should forage on plant species with higher digestible carbohydrates than should unstressed herbivores to meet heightened energy demands. Increased consumption of carbohydrate‐rich plants should reduce their relative abundance in the community, hence altering the quantity and quality of plant litter entering the detrital pool. We further hypothesize that stress should change the elemental composition and energy content of prey excreta, egesta, and carcasses that enter the detrital pool. Finally, prey stress should lower energy and nutrient conversion efficiency and hence the transfer of materials and energy up the food chain, which should, in turn, weaken the association between ecosystem productivity and food chain length.

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