Diversity has stronger top-down than bottom-up effects on decomposition

Diane S. Srivastava, Bradley J. Cardinale, Amy L. Downing, J. Emmett Duffy, Claire Jouseau, Mahesh Sankaran, Justin P. Wright

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

190 Scopus citations


The flow of energy and nutrients between trophic levels is affected by both the trophic structure of food webs and the diversity of species within trophic levels. However, the combined effects of trophic structure and diversity on trophic transfer remain largely unknown. Here we ask whether changes in consumer diversity have the same effect as changes in resource diversity on rates of resource consumption. We address this question by focusing on consumer-resource dynamics for the ecologically important process of decomposition. This study compares the top-down effect of consumer (detritivore) diversity on the consumption of dead organic matter (decomposition) with the bottom-up effect of resource (detrital) diversity, based on a compilation of 90 observations reported in 28 studies. We did not detect effects of either detrital or consumer diversity on measures of detrital standing stock, and effects on consumer standing stock were equivocal. However, our meta-analysis indicates that reductions in detritivore diversity result in significant reductions in the rate of decomposition. Detrital diversity has both positive and negative effects on decomposition, with no overall trend. This difference between top-down and bottom-up effects of diversity is robust to different effect size metrics and could not be explained by differences in experimental systems or designs between detritivore and detrital manipulations. Our finding that resource diversity has no net effect on consumption in "brown" (detritus-consumer) food webs contrasts with previous findings from "green" (plant-herbivore) food webs and suggests that effects of plant diversity on consumption may fundamentally change after plant death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1073-1083
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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