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Relative Consumer Sizes and the Strengths of Direct and Indirect Interactions in Omnivorous Feeding Relationships
Vol. 68, No. 1 (Oct., 1993), pp. 151-157
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3545321
Page Count: 7
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Omnivory (the consumption of resources from more than one trophic level) is widespread in nature and has the potential to produce a richness of indirect effects. Nevertheless, its effects on population dynamics have received very little attention. In its simplest case, omnivory involves a top consumer, an intermediate consumer, and a resource that is common to both consumers. Simple models predict that the intermediate consumer can only coexist with the top consumer if the former is more efficient in exploiting the common resource, which would imply a net positive effect of the top consumer on the equilibrium density of resources (compared to the situation where only the intermediate consumer is present). Among 22 experimental manipulations of omnivorous top consumers I found only 2 studies in which top consumers had significant positive effects on resources. This discrepancy between experimental results and model predictions is, at least partly, related to deviations of the experimental systems from model assumptions. However, considerations of relative body sizes of intermediate and top consumers suggest, that top consumers having negative net effects on the basic resource should be common in nature. I argue that in systems where intermediate consumers and basic resources are relatively similar in size, but both are much smaller than omnivorous top consumers (e.g. vertebrate omnivores feeding on benthos, soil invertebrates, terrestrial insects etc.), the direct negative effect of top consumers on basic resources should not be outweighed by indirect positive effects, and that other mechanisms (e.g. prey refuges) must be invoked to explain the persistence of intermediate consumers in many natural systems. I further argue that a better knowledge of the population dynamical consequences of omnivory and the role of relative consumer sizes is necessary to improve our understanding of the trophic dynamics of different kinds of communities.
Oikos © 1993 Nordic Society Oikos