Top-Down Effects of a Terrestrial Frog on Nutrient Concentrations in a Subtropical Forest
Many studies have found top-down effects of predators on prey, but few studies have linked top-down effects of vertebrate predators to nutrient cycling rates in terrestrial systems. In this study, large and significant effects of a terrestrial frog, Eleutherodactylus coqui (coqu), were recorded on nutrient concentrations and fluxes in a subtropical wet forest. In a manipulative experiment, coqus at natural densities were contained in or excluded from 1 m3 enclosures for 4 months. Chemistry of leaf wash (throughfall), foliage, and decomposed leaf litter in the enclosures were measured as indicators of coqu effects on nutrient cycling. Coqu exclusion decreased elemental concentrations in leaf washes by 83% for dissolved organic C, 71% for NH4 +, 33% for NO3 –, 60% for dissolved organic N, and between 60 and 100% for Ca, Fe, Mg, Mn, P, K, and Zn. Coqu exclusion had no effect on foliar chemistry of plants transplanted into the enclosures. However, coqu exclusion decreased nutrient availability in decomposing mixed leaf litter by 12% and 14% for K and P, respectively, and increased C:N ratios by 13%. Changes in nutrient concentrations that occurred with coqu exclusion appear to be due to concentrations of nutrients in coqu waste products and population turnover. The results supported our hypothesis that coqus have an observable effect on nutrient dynamics in this forest. We suggest that the primary mechanism through which they have this effect is through the conversion of insects into nutrient forms that are more readily available for microbes and plants. The potential for higher trophic level species to affect nutrient cycling through this mechanism should not be overlooked.
Beard, K.H., K.A. Vogt, and A. Kulmatiski. 2002. Top-down effects of a terrestrial frog on nutrient concentrations in a subtropical forest Oecologia 133: 583-593.