Predators can disproportionately impact the structure and function of ecosystems relative to their biomass. These effects may be exacerbated under warming in ecosystems like the Arctic, where the number and diversity of predators are low and small shifts in community interactions can alter carbon cycle feedbacks. Here, we show that warming alters the effects of wolf spiders, a dominant tundra predator, on belowground litter decomposition. Specifically, while high densities of wolf spiders result in faster litter decomposition under ambient temperatures, they result, instead, in slower decomposition under warming. Higher spider densities are also associated with elevated levels of available soil nitrogen, potentially benefiting plant production. Changes in decomposition rates under increased wolf spider densities are accompanied by trends toward fewer fungivorous Collembola under ambient temperatures and more Collembola under warming, suggesting that Collembola mediate the indirect effects of wolf spiders on decomposition. The unexpected reversal of wolf spider effects on Collembola and decomposition suggest that in some cases, warming does not simply alter the strength of top-down effects but, instead, induces a different trophic cascade altogether. Our results indicate that climate change-induced effects on predators can cascade through other trophic levels, alter critical ecosystem functions, and potentially lead to climate feedbacks with important global implications. Moreover, given the expected increase in wolf spider densities with climate change, our findings suggest that the observed cascading effects of this common predator on detrital processes could potentially buffer concurrent changes in decomposition rates.
Cites: Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Jul 12;365(1549):2019-24 PMID 20513710