Reciprocal effects of host plant and natural enemy diversity on herbivore suppression: An empirical study of a model tritrophic system

Kristin M. Aquilino, Bradley J. Cardinale, Anthony R. Ives

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88 Scopus citations


Many theoretical and empirical studies have shown that species diversity in a trophic level can impact the capture of limited resources in ways that cascade up or down a food web. Only recently, however, have ecologists begun to consider how diversity at multiple trophic levels might act in concert to have opposing or reinforcing effects on resource use. Here, we report the results of an empirical study of a model, tritrophic food web in which we manipulated the diversity of host plant species (Medicago sativa, Trifolium pratense and Vicia faba) and natural enemy species (Harmonia axyridis, Coleomegilla maculata and Nabis sp.) of a widespread herbivorous pest (the pea aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum) in laboratory microcosms. We found that increasing natural enemy richness from one to three species increased the proportion of aphids consumed by 0.14. This effect of enemy diversity was due to facultative interactions and/or a reduction in intraspecific competition in the more diverse assemblages. We also found an independent and additive main effect of host plant richness, with the proportion of aphids consumed by natural enemies decreasing by 0.14 in plant polycultures. A reduction in predator efficiency on a single host plant, Vicia faba, appeared to be responsible for this plant diversity effect. Aphid population sizes were, therefore, simultaneously determined by a top-down effect of natural enemy diversity, and an opposing bottom-up effect of host plant diversity that modified enemy-prey interactions. These results suggest that population sizes in nature, and biotic controls over insect pests, are influenced by species diversity at multiple trophic levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)275-282
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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