The effect of community composition on persistence of prey with their predators in an assemblage of pond-breeding amphibians
We examined whether the species composition of a community influences the persistence of larval Ambystoma maculatum in assemblages composed of two larger intraguild predators (A. opacum and A. jeffersonianum) and an alternative prey species (tadpoles of Rana sylvatica). We predicted a priori that A. maculatum would have higher survival in more diverse communities containing alternative species of prey and top predators (A. opacum), the latter of which may lower the abundance of intermediate predators (A. jeffersonianum) via intraguild predation. In a factorial experiment, we manipulated the presence of larval A. opacum, A. jeffersonianum, and R. sq sylvatica in replicated artificial ponds containing larval A. maculatum. The presence of all three species significantly depressed biomass production in A. maculatum: biomass was highest in ponds lacking the other species and was zero in ponds initially containing all four species. Tadpoles severely reduced the growth of filamentous algae in the ponds. This, in turn, may have affected the abundance of some herbivorous prey of larval salamanders, although this possibility was not tested. The presence of congeneric predators severely restricted the presence in the water column of larval A. maculatum, which otherwise exhibited significant diel patterns of activity in the absence of predators. Together, the presence of tadpoles and a predator-mediated reduction in activity patterns may have limited foraging opportunities for A. maculatum, thus exacerbating the direct impact of predation on survival in this species. These results suggest that diverse assemblages consisting of these particular species may actually inhibit, rather than promote, inclusion of A. maculatum in some communities of pond-breeding amphibians.