Predation, predation risk, and resource quality affect suites of prey traits that collectively impact individual fitness, population dynamics, and community structure. However, studies of multi-trophic level effects generally focus on a single prey trait, failing to capture trade-offs among suites of covarying traits that govern population responses and emergent community patterns. We used structural equation models (SEM) to summarize the non-lethal and lethal effects of crayfish, Procambarus fallax, and phosphorus (P) addition, which affected prey food quality (periphyton), on the interactive effects of behavioral, morphological, developmental, and reproductive traits of snails, Planorbella duryi. Univariate and multivariate analyses suggested trade-offs between production (growth, reproduction) and defense (foraging behavior, shell shape) traits of snails in response to non-lethal crayfish and P addition, but few lethal effects. SEM revealed that non-lethal crayfish effects indirectly limited per capita offspring standing stock by increasing refuge use, slowing individual growth, and inducing snails to produce thicker, compressed shells. The negative effects of non-lethal crayfish on snails were strongest with P addition; snails increased allocation to shell defense rather than growth or reproduction. However, compared to ambient conditions, P addition with non-lethal crayfish still yielded greater per capita offspring standing stock by speeding individual snail growth enabling them to produce more offspring that also grew faster. Increased refuge use in response to non-lethal crayfish led to a non-lethal trophic cascade that altered the spatial distribution of periphyton. Independent of crayfish effects, snails stimulated periphyton growth through nutrient regeneration. These findings illustrate the importance of studying suites of traits that reveal costs associated with inducing different traits and how expressing those traits impacts population and community level processes.
Ruehl, C., J.C. Trexler. 2013. A suite of prey traits determine predator and nutrient enrichment effects in a tri-trophic food web. Ecosphere 4: 75. DOI: 10.1890/ES13-00065.1