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Data from: Fragment size affects plant herbivory via predator loss

Cite this dataset

Genua, Lucy; Start, Denon; Gilbert, Benjamin (2023). Data from: Fragment size affects plant herbivory via predator loss [Dataset]. Dryad.


Fragmentation and resultant changes in patch size are predicted to alter species diversity and community composition, yet the consequences of these differences for species interactions are poorly understood. Theory predicts that predators are more sensitive to fragmentation than their prey, resulting in greater predator loss in small patches. Predator loss, in turn, is predicted to 1) increase herbivory rates overall, and 2) cause herbivores to shift feeding from plants that act as refugia to those that are preferred forage. We tested these predictions in an old-field community using two experiments. The first was a large-scale experiment that included hundreds of arthropod species in fragments of various sizes, and used goldenrod and switchgrass to assess herbivory. Our second experiment manipulated densities of a focal predator species and a focal prey species to determine if changes in densities, rather than other characteristics of fragments, were sufficient to cause the trends observed in the first experiment. We found that predator densities declined in small fragments whereas herbivore densities showed the opposite trend. Total herbivory mirrored herbivore densities by increasing in small patches, and this mean increase was driven by large increases in goldenrod herbivory but declines in switchgrass herbivory. Experimental manipulation of densities confirmed that herbivores preferentially feed on goldenrod, and that predators depress herbivory on goldenrod but have a negligible effect on switchgrass. Our results suggest that fragmentation alters trophic interactions by causing declines in predator densities and increases in herbivore densities, but that feeding preferences of herbivores may generate unequal impacts among plant species.

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Southern Ontario