Habitat structure, trophic structure and ecosystem function: interactive effects in a bromeliad–insect community
Although previous studies have shown that ecosystem functions are affected by either trophic structure or habitat structure, there has been little consideration of their combined effects. Such interactions may be particularly important in systems where habitat and trophic structure covary. I use the aquatic insects in bromeliads to examine the combined effects of trophic structure and habitat structure on a key ecosystem function: detrital processing. In Costa Rican bromeliads, trophic structure naturally covaries with both habitat complexity and habitat size, precluding any observational analysis of interactions between factors. I therefore designed mesocosms that allowed each factor to be manipulated separately. Increases in mesocosm complexity reduced predator (damselfly larva) efficiency, resulting in high detritivore abundances, indirectly increasing detrital processing rates. However, increased complexity also directly reduced the per capita foraging efficiency of the detritivores. Over short time periods, these trends effectively cancelled each other out in terms of detrital processing. Over longer time periods, more complex patterns emerged. Increases in mesocosm size also reduced both predator efficiency and detritivore efficiency, leading to no net effect on detrital processing. In many systems, ecosystem functions may be impacted by strong interactions between trophic structure and habitat structure, cautioning against examining either effect in isolation.