Non-consumptive effects of predatory mites on thrips and its host plant

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Recent reviews on trait-mediated interactions in food webs suggest that trait-mediated effects are as important in triggering top-down trophic cascades as are density-mediated effects. Trait-mediated interactions between predator and prey result from non-consumptive predator effects changing behavioural and/or life history traits of prey. However, in biological control the occurrence of trait-mediated interactions between predators, prey and plants has been largely ignored. Here, we show that non-consumptive predator effects on prey cascade down to the plant in an agro-ecological food chain. The study system consisted of the predatory mites P. persimilis and N. californicus, the herbivorous non-target prey western flower thrips F. occidentalis and the host plant bean. Irrespective of predator species and risk posed to prey, the presence of predator eggs led to increased ambulation, increased mortality and decreased oviposition of thrips. Furthermore, the presence of predator eggs reduced leaf damage caused by thrips. To our knowledge this is the first experimental evidence suggesting a positive trophic cascade triggered by non-consumptive predator effects on non-target prey in an augmentative biological control system.

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