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Density mediates grasshopper performance in response to temperature manipulation and spider predation in tallgrass prairie

  • A.N. Laws (a1) and A. Joern (a1)

Species interactions are often context-dependent, where outcomes require an understanding of influences among multiple biotic and abiotic factors. However, it remains unclear how abiotic factors such as temperature combine with important biotic factors such as density-dependent food limitation and predation to influence species interactions. Using a native grassland – grasshopper – wolf spider model food chain in tallgrass prairie, we conducted a manipulative field experiment to examine how predator–prey interactions respond to manipulations of temperature, grasshopper density, and food chain length. We find that grasshopper performance responses to temperature and predator treatments were density dependent. At high densities, grasshopper survival decreased with increased temperature when no spiders were present. When spiders were present, grasshopper survival was reduced, and this effect was strongest in the cooled treatment. In contrast, grasshopper survival did not vary significantly with spider presence or among temperature treatments at low grasshopper densities. Our results indicate that context-dependent species interactions are common and highlight the importance of understanding how and when key biotic and abiotic factors combine to influence species interactions.

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† Current address: Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77004, USA.
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