Experimental evidence that phenotypic divergence in predators drives community divergence in prey.

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2009-02

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Abstract

Studies of adaptive divergence have traditionally focused on the ecological causes of trait diversification, while the ecological consequences of phenotypic divergence remain relatively unexplored. Divergence in predator foraging traits, in particular, has the potential to impact the structure and dynamics of ecological communities. To examine the effects of predator trait divergence on prey communities, we exposed zooplankton communities in lake mesocosms to predation from either anadromous or landlocked (freshwater resident) alewives, which have undergone recent and rapid phenotypic differentiation in foraging traits (gape width, gill raker spacing, and prey size-selectivity). Anadromous alewives, which exploit large prey items, significantly reduced the mean body size, total biomass, species richness, and diversity of crustacean zooplankton relative to landlocked alewives, which exploit smaller prey. The zooplankton responses observed in this experiment are consistent with patterns observed in lakes. This study provides direct evidence that phenotypic divergence in predators, even in its early stages, can play a critical role in determining prey community structure.

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