Understanding the role of species interactions as regulatory mechanisms for ecosystem processes presents a challenge to ecologists working in systems with high species diversity and habitat complexity. Recent studies suggest that interactions among intraguild predators, such as terrestrial salamanders and large arthropods, might be important for the regulation of detritivores, fungivores, and perhaps detritus within terrestrial webs. A key prediction is that interactions among predators weaken trophic cascades. Our research examined this prediction by removing predators for 4 yr from unfenced field plots to investigate the effects on litter arthropods, the microbial community, and rates of leaf litter decomposition. We manipulated predator abundance in three treatments (salamander removal, centipede removal, and multiple predator removal) compared to a control in which no predators were removed. Despite difficulties in suppressing centipede numbers, we observed increases in salamanders, millipedes, isopods, slugs, numbers of ant colonies, and gamasid mites in the centipede removal plots. Additionally, several phospholipid fatty acid markers for bacteria were suppressed in plots where salamanders were most abundant. Finally, we detected treatment effects on the rate of litter disappearance from leaf bags in our field plots: those with the most salamanders had the lowest levels of litter decomposition. Overall, we found some evidence for top-down effects of predators in a temperate forest-floor web. Our study is one of few that have employed an unfenced field design and the only study examining the effects of salamanders on forest soil microbes. The results contribute to a growing body of evidence indicating that territorial predators, such as terrestrial salamanders, can be strong regulators of species composition at lower trophic levels in a system that is commonly thought to be regulated primarily through bottom-up effects of organic matter supply.
Anthony, Carl; Hickerson, Cari-Ann M.; and Walton, B. Michael, "Eastern Red-backed Salamanders Regulate Top-Down Effects in a Temperate Forest-Floor Community" (2017). 2017 Faculty Bibliography. 33.