Papers in the Biological Sciences


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Published as: Luhring TM, DeLong JP. 2020 Trophic cascades alter eco-evolutionary dynamics and body size evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 287: 20200526.



Copyright © 2020 Luhring & DeLong. Published by the Royal Society. Used by permission.


Trait evolution in predator–prey systems can feed back to the dynamics of interacting species as well as cascade to impact the dynamics of indirectly linked species (eco-evolutionary trophic cascades; EETCs). A key mediator of trophic cascades is body mass, as it both strongly influences and evolves in response to predator–prey interactions. Here, we use Gillespie ecoevolutionary models to explore EETCs resulting from top predator loss and mediated by body mass evolution. Our four-trophic-level food chain model uses allometric scaling to link body mass to different functions (ecological pleiotropy) and is realistically parameterized from the FORAGE database to mimic the parameter space of a typical freshwater system. To track real-time changes in selective pressures, we also calculated fitness gradients for each trophic level. As predicted, top predator loss generated alternating shifts in abundance across trophic levels, and, depending on the nature and strength in changes to fitness gradients, also altered trajectories of body mass evolution. Although more distantly linked, changes in the abundance of top predators still affected the eco-evolutionary dynamics of the basal producers, in part because of their relatively short generation times. Overall, our results suggest that impacts on top predators can set off transient EETCs with the potential for widespread indirect impacts on food webs.

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