Liere, H., T. N. Kim, B. P. Werling, T. D. Meehan, D. A. Landis, and C. Gratton. 2015. Trophic cascades in agricultural landscapes: indirect effects of landscape composition on crop yield. Ecological Applications 25:652-661.
The strength and prevalence of trophic cascades, defined as positive, indirect effects of natural enemies (predatory and parasitic arthropods) on plants, is highly variable in agroecosystems. This variation may in part be due to the spatial or landscape context in which these trophic cascades occur. In 2011 and 2012, we conducted a natural enemy exclusion experiment in soybean fields along a gradient of landscape composition across southern Wisconsin and Michigan, USA. We used structural equation modeling to ask (1) whether natural enemies influence biocontrol of soybean aphids (SBA) and soybean yield and (2) whether landscape effects on natural enemies influence the strength of the trophic cascades. We found that natural enemies (NE) suppressed aphid populations in both years of our study, and, in 2011, the yield of soybean plants exposed to natural enemies was 37% higher than the yield of plants with aphid populations protected from natural enemies. The strength of the trophic cascade was also influenced by landscape context. We found that landscapes with a higher proportion of soybean and higher diversity habitats resulted in more NE, fewer aphids, and, in some cases, a trend toward greater soybean yield. These results indicate that landscape context is important for understanding spatial variability in biocontrol and yield, but other factors, such as environmental variability and compensatory growth, might overwhelm the beneficial effects of biocontrol on crop yield.
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