Stronger predation intensity and impact on prey communities in the tropics Academic Article uri icon


  • The hypothesis that biotic interactions strengthen toward lower latitudes provides a framework for linking community-scale processes with the macroecological scales that define our biosphere. Despite the importance of this hypothesis for understanding community assembly and ecosystem functioning, the extent to which interaction strength varies across latitude and the effects of this variation on natural communities remain unresolved. Predation in particular is central to ecological and evolutionary dynamics across the globe, yet very few studies explore both community-scale causes and outcomes of predation across latitude. Here we expand beyond prior studies to examine two important components of predation strength: intensity of predation (including multiple dimensions of the predator guild) and impact on prey community biomass and structure, providing one of the most comprehensive examinations of predator-prey interactions across latitude. Using standardized experiments, we tested the hypothesis that predation intensity and impact on prey communities were stronger at lower latitudes. We further assessed prey recruitment to evaluate the potential for this process to mediate predation effects. We used sessile marine invertebrate communities and their fish predators in nearshore environments as a model system, with experiments conducted at 12 sites in four regions spanning the tropics to the subarctic. Our results show clear support for an increase in both predation intensity and impact at lower relative to higher latitudes. The predator guild was more diverse at low latitudes, with higher predation rates, longer interaction durations, and larger predator body sizes, suggesting stronger predation intensity in the tropics. Predation also reduced prey biomass and altered prey composition at low latitudes, with no effects at high latitudes. Although recruitment rates were up to three orders of magnitude higher in the tropics than the subarctic, prey replacement through this process was insufficient to dampen completely the strong impacts of predators in the tropics. Our study provides a novel perspective on the biotic interaction hypothesis, suggesting that multiple components of the predator community likely contribute to predation intensity at low latitudes, with important consequences for the structure of prey communities.

author list (cited authors)

  • Freestone, A. L., Torchin, M. E., Jurgens, L. J., Bonfim, M., L√≥pez, D. P., Repetto, M. F., ... Ruiz, G. M.

publication date

  • January 1, 2021 11:11 AM