Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-vjhkx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-06T09:50:54.392Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Impact of abiotic factors on predator-prey interactions: DNA-based gut content analysis in a microcosm experiment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 April 2008

K. von Berg*
Animal Ecology, Darmstadt University of Technology, Schnittspahnstrasse 3, 64287 Darmstadt, Germany
M. Traugott
Institute of Ecology, Mountain Agriculture Research Unit, University of Innsbruck, Technikerstrasse 25, 6020 Innsbruck, Austria Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Biomedical Sciences Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3US, UK
W.O.C. Symondson
Cardiff School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Biomedical Sciences Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3US, UK
S. Scheu
Animal Ecology, Darmstadt University of Technology, Schnittspahnstrasse 3, 64287 Darmstadt, Germany
*Author for correspondence Fax: +49 6151 166111 E-mail:


The effects of predators on prey populations can be modified by a number of abiotic factors. Here, we investigated the combined and separate effects of rain and ground-dwelling predators on aphid populations in a microcosm experiment lasting for 21 days, using PCR to analyse the gut content of the predators. Rain significantly dislodged aphids from shoots and ears by 57% and 25%, respectively. The gut content analysis showed that more predators consumed aphids in the rain treatment than without rain, indicating higher availability of aphids to ground-dwelling predators after rain. However, no synergistic effects of rain and ground-dwelling predators on aphid population development could be demonstrated. Rain alone significantly decreased aphid populations by 27%, suggesting that this is a significant mortality factor. Predators alone had no significant effect on aphid numbers, but the gut content analyses showed aphid consumption also in the no-rain treatments, indicating that aphids were available to the predators on the soil surface even without rain. Our results suggest that weather conditions such as rain can modify predator-prey interactions in the field. Employing PCR-based predator gut content analyses proved to be useful as trophic links could be directly verified.

Research Paper
Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Agustí, N., Shayler, S.P., Harwood, J.D., Vaughan, I.P., Sunderland, K.D. & Symondson, W.O.C. (2003) Collembola as alternative prey sustaining spiders in arable ecosystems: prey detection within predators using molecular markers. Molecular Ecology 12, 34673475.Google Scholar
Araya, J.E. & Fereres, A. (1991) Cereal aphid survival under flooding conditions. Zeitschrift fur Pflanzenkrankheiten und Pflanzenschutz-Journal of Plant Diseases and Protection 98, 168173.Google Scholar
Begon, M., Townsend, C.R. & Harper, J.L. (2005) Ecology from Individuals to Ecosystems. 752 pp. Malden, Blackwell Publishing.Google Scholar
Cannon, R.J.C. (1984) The development rate of Metopolophium dirhodum (Walker) (Hemiptera, Aphididae) on winter-wheat. Bulletin of Entomological Research 74, 3346.Google Scholar
Chase, J.M. (1996) Abiotic controls of trophic cascades in a simple grassland food chain. Oikos 77, 495506.Google Scholar
Dhaliwal, J.S. & Singh, B. (1975) Effect of simulated rain on the survival of wheat aphid Macrosiphum miscanthi (Takahashi) and its syrphid predator (Eristalis tenax L.). Indian Journal of Ecology 3, 186187.Google Scholar
Dennis, P. & Sotherton, N.W. (1994) Behavioral aspects of staphylinid beetles that limit their aphid feeding potential in cereal crops. Pedobiologia 38, 222237.Google Scholar
Dewar, A.M., Dean, G.J. & Cannon, R. (1982) Assessment of methods for estimating the numbers of aphids (Hemiptera, Aphididae) in cereals. Bulletin of Entomological Research 72, 675685.Google Scholar
Foltan, P., Sheppard, S., Konvicka, M. & Symondson, W.O.C. (2005) The significance of facultative scavenging in generalist predator nutrition: detecting decayed prey in the guts of predators using PCR. Molecular Ecology 14, 41474158.Google Scholar
Frampton, G.K., van den Brink, P.J. & Gould, P.J.L. (2000) Effects of spring drought and irrigation on farmland arthropods in southern Britain. Journal of Applied Ecology 37, 865883.Google Scholar
Fraser, A.M. (1982) The role of spiders in determining cereal aphid numbers. PhD thesis, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.Google Scholar
Fraser, L.H. (1998) Top-down vs bottom-up control influenced by productivity in a North Derbyshire, UK, dale. Oikos 81, 99108.Google Scholar
Fraser, L.H. & Grime, J.P. (1998) Top-down control and its effect on the biomass and composition of three grasses at high and low soil fertility in outdoor microcosms. Oecologia 113, 239246.Google Scholar
Greenstone, M.H., Rowley, D.L., Weber, D.C., Payton, M.E. & Hawthorne, D.J. (2007) Feeding mode and prey detectability half-lives in molecular gut-content analysis: an example with two predators of the Colorado potato beetle. Bulletin of Entomological Research 97, 201209.Google Scholar
Griffiths, E., Wratten, S.D. & Vickerman, G.P. (1985) Foraging by the Carabid Agonum dorsale in the field. Ecological Entomology 10, 181189.Google Scholar
Harper, G.L., King, R.A., Dodd, C.S., Harwood, J.D., Glen, D.M., Bruford, M.W. & Symondson, W.O.C. (2005) Rapid screening of invertebrate predators for multiple prey DNA targets. Molecular Ecology 14, 819827.Google Scholar
Holland, J.M. & Thomas, S.R. (1997a) Assessing the role of beneficial invertebrates in conventional and integrated farming systems during an outbreak of Sitobion avenae. Biological Agriculture & Horticulture 15, 7382.Google Scholar
Holland, J.M. & Thomas, S.R. (1997b) Quantifying the impact of polyphagous invertebrate predators in controlling cereal aphids and in preventing wheat yield and quality reductions. Annals of Applied Biology 131, 375397.Google Scholar
Juen, A. & Traugott, M. (2005) Detecting predation and scavenging by DNA gut-content analysis: a case study using a soil insect predator-prey system. Oecologia 142, 344352.Google Scholar
Juen, A. & Traugott, M. (2007) Revealing species-specific trophic links in soil food webs: molecular identification of scarab predators. Molecular Ecology 16, 15451557.Google Scholar
King, R.A., Read, D.S., Traugott, M. & Symondson, W.O.C. (2008) Molecular analysis of predation: a review of best practice for DNA-based approaches. Molecular Ecology 17, 947963.Google Scholar
Krebs, C.J. (2001) Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance. 801 pp. New York, Harper Collins College Publishers.Google Scholar
Losey, J.E. & Denno, R.F. (1998a) Positive predator-predator interactions: enhanced predation rates and synergistic suppression of aphid populations. Ecology 79, 21432152.Google Scholar
Losey, J.E. & Denno, R.F. (1998b) Interspecific variation in the escape responses of aphids: effect on risk of predation from foliar-foraging and ground-foraging predators. Oecologia 115, 245252.Google Scholar
Mann, J.A., Tatchell, G.M., Dupuch, M.J., Harrington, R., Clark, S.J. & McCartney, H.A. (1995) Movement of apterous Sitobion avenae (Homoptera, Aphididae) in response to leaf disturbances caused by wind and rain. Annals of Applied Biology 126, 417427.Google Scholar
Masters, G.J., Brown, V.K., Clarke, I.P., Whittaker, J.B. & Hollier, J.A. (1998) Direct and indirect effects of climate change on insect herbivores: Auchenorrhyncha (Homoptera). Ecological Entomology 23, 4552.Google Scholar
Narayandas, G.K. & Alyokhin, A.V. (2006) Interplant movement of potato aphid (Homoptera: aphididae) in response to environmental stimuli. Environmental Entomology 35, 733739.Google Scholar
Ovadia, O. & Schmitz, O.J. (2004) Weather variation and trophic interaction strength: sorting the signal from the noise. Oecologia 140, 398406.Google Scholar
Sheppard, S.K. & Harwood, J.D. (2005) Advances in molecular ecology: tracking trophic links through predator-prey food-webs. Functional Ecology 19, 751762.Google Scholar
Sopp, P.I., Sunderland, K.D. & Coombes, D.S. (1987) Observations on the number of cereal aphids on the soil in relation to aphid density in winter wheat. Annals of Applied Biology 111, 5357.Google Scholar
Stiling, P. & Rossi, A.M. (1997) Experimental manipulations of top-down and bottom-up factors in a tri-trophic system. Ecology 78, 16021606.Google Scholar
Sunderland, K.D. & Vickerman, G.P. (1980) Aphid feeding by some polyphagous predators in relation to aphid density in cereal fields. Journal of Applied Ecology 17, 389396.Google Scholar
Sunderland, K.D., Crook, N.E., Stacey, D.L. & Fuller, B.J. (1987) A study of feeding by polyphagous predators on cereal aphids using ELISA and gut dissection. Journal of Applied Ecology 24, 907933.Google Scholar
Sunderland, K.D. (and 11 others) (1997) Pest control by a community of natural enemies. Acta Jutlandica 72, 271326.Google Scholar
Symondson, W.O.C. (2002) Molecular identification of prey in predator diets. Molecular Ecology 11, 627641.Google Scholar
Symondson, W.O.C., Sunderland, K.D. & Greenstone, M.H. (2002) Can generalist predators be effective biocontrol agents? Annual Review of Entomology 47, 561594.Google Scholar
von Berg, K., Traugott, M., Symondson, W.O.C. & Scheu, S. (2008) The effects of temperature on detection of prey DNA in two species of carabid beetle. Bulletin of Entomological Research, this issue: 263269.Google Scholar
Watson, S.J. (1983) Effects of weather on the number of cereal aphids. PhD thesis, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.Google Scholar
Watson, S.J. & Carter, N. (1983) Weather and modelling cereal aphid populations in Norfolk (UK). EPPO Bulletin 13, 223227.Google Scholar
Winder, L., Hirst, D.J., Carter, N., Wratten, S.D. & Sopp, P.I. (1994) Estimating predation of the grain aphid Sitobion avenae by polyphagous predators. Journal of Applied Ecology 31, 112.Google Scholar
Zuniga, E. (1991) Effect of parasitism and rainfall on displacement movements of aphids. pp. 250251in Peters, D.C., Webster, J.A. & Chlouber, C.S. (Eds) Proceedings Aphid-Plant Interactions: Populations to Molecules. USDA: ARS and Oklahoma State University Report 177.Google Scholar