Ecological Research

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 749–755

A trophic cascade in a macrophyte-based food web at the land–water ecotone

Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11284-006-0312-5

Cite this article as:
Schlacher, T.A. & Cronin, G. Ecol Res (2007) 22: 749. doi:10.1007/s11284-006-0312-5


Trophic cascades may purportedly be more common in aquatic than terrestrial food webs, but herbivory on freshwater vascular plants has historically been considered low. Water lilies are an exception, suffering severe grazing damage by leaf beetles. To test whether a central prediction of cascade models—that predator effects propagate downwards to plants—operates in a macrophyte-based food web, we experimentally manipulated predation pressure on a key herbivore of water lilies in the littoral zone of a lake in Michigan, USA. Field experiments comprised combinations of caging treatments to alter the number of predators (larvae of the ladybird beetle Coleomegilla maculata) that hunt the grazers of the macrophytes (larvae of the leaf beetles Galerucella nymphaeae) on the leaves of the water lily Nuphar advena. Predatory larvae of the ladybird beetles significantly reduced grazing damage to water-lily leaves by 35–43%. The predators reduced plant damage chiefly via density-mediated effects, when lower densities of grazers translated to significant declines in plant damage. Plant damage caused by the surviving herbivores was less than predicted from individual grazing rates under predator-free conditions. This suggests that trait-mediated effects may possibly also operate in this cascade. The observed strong effect of predators on a non-adjacent trophic level concurs with an essential component of the trophic cascade model, and the cascade occurred at the ecotone between aquatic and terrestrial habitats: Nuphar is an aquatic macrophyte with emergent and floating leaves, whereas both beetle species are semi-terrestrial and use the dry, emergent and floating leaves of the water lily as habitat. Also, the cascade is underpinned by freshwater macrophytes—a group for which trophic processes have often been underappreciated in the past.


MacrophytesTrophic cascadesHerbivoryIndirect effectsPlant–animal interactions

Copyright information

© The Ecological Society of Japan 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.Faculty of Science, Health and EducationUniversity of the Sunshine CoastQueenslandAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Biology, Downtown Denver CampusUniversity of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences CenterDenverUSA