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The greater susceptibility of higher trophic levels to habitat loss has been demonstrated to disrupt important trophic interactions such as consumer control of prey populations. This pattern is predicted to break down for generalist species that can use matrix habitats, yet empirical studies comparing generalist and specialist enemy pressure in response to natural habitat loss are lacking. Here we examined the effects of landscape simplification resulting from habitat conversion to agriculture on nettles, Urtica dioica, their specialized aphid herbivore, Microlophium carnosum, and associated natural enemies that varied broadly in their degree of specialization. Both nettles and their specialized aphid herbivore were significantly more abundant in complex than simple landscapes. Different enemy groups showed contrasting responses. Aphid specialists (parasitic wasps and cecidomyiid midges) reached higher densities in complex than simple landscapes, and this effect was primarily related to shirts in local resource abundance (i.e. nettle aphid densities). In contrast, densities of generalists (coccinellid beetles and spiders) were significantly higher in simple landscapes, presumably due to spillover of generalists from surrounding cropland habitats. Natural enemy-prey ratios did not differ significantly across landscape types for specialist groups but were significantly higher in simple than complex landscapes for generalist groups, suggesting that enemy pressure on nettle aphids likely increases with landscape simplification. This was supported by our finding that aphid population growth rates were lower in simple than complex landscapes, and declined significantly with increasing coccinellid densities. Thus, in marked contrast to previous work, our results suggest that natural habitat loss may augment rather than disrupt consumer--prey interactions, and this will depend greatly on the degree of specialization of functionally dominant natural enemies.
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