Shedding light on trophic interactions: A field experiment on the effect of human population between latitudes on herbivory and predation patterns

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Interactions between species within an ecosystem (e.g. predation and herbivory) play a vital role in sustaining the ecosystem functionality, which includes aspects like pest control and nutrient cycling. Unfortunately, human activities are progressively disrupting these trophic relationships, thereby contributing to the ongoing biodiversity decline. Additionally, certain human activities like urbanization may further impact the intensity of these trophic interactions, which are already known to be influenced by latitudinal gradients. The aim of this study was to test the hypothesis of whether the impact of human population, used as a proxy for human pressure, differs between latitudes. To test it, we selected 18 study sites at two latitudes (i.e. ~53°N and ~50°N) with varying human population density (HPD). We used artificial caterpillars placed on European beech branches to assess bird predation and took standardized pictures of the leaves to estimate insect herbivory. Remote sensing techniques were used to estimate human pressure. We found that the intensity of bird predation varied in response to HPD, with opposite trends observed depending on the latitude. At our upper latitude, bird predation increased with HPD, while the opposite was observed at the lower latitude. Herbivory was not affected by urbanization and we found higher levels of herbivory in the lower compared to the higher latitude. At the lower latitude, certain species may experience a disadvantage attributed to the urban heat island effect due to their sensitivity to temperature fluctuations. Conversely, at the higher latitude, where minimum temperatures can be a limitation, certain species may benefit from milder winters. Overall, this study highlights the complex and dynamic nature of trophic relationships in the face of human-driven changes to ecosystems. It also emphasizes the importance of considering both human pressure and latitudinal gradients when assessing the ecological consequences of future climate change scenarios, especially in urban environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere10449
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number9
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 01.09.2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by grants ‘Convocatorias de Ayudas a la Investigación de la SEEEE Año 2022’. Sociedad Española de Etología y Ecología Evolutiva

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

    Research areas

  • bird predation, insect herbivory, latitude, UHI effect and urbanization
  • Biology