Indirect commensalism promotes persistence of secondary consumer species

Dirk Sanders, F. J. Frank van Veen


Local species extinctions may lead to, often unexpected, secondary extinctions. To predict these, we need to understand how indirect effects, within a network of interacting species, affect the ability of species to persist. It has been hypothesized that the persistence of some predators depends on other predator species that suppress competitively dominant prey to low levels, allowing a greater diversity of prey species, and their predators, to coexist. We show that, in experimental insect communities, the absence of one parasitoid wasp species does indeed lead to the extinction of another that is separated by four trophic links. These results highlight the importance of a holistic systems perspective to biodiversity conservation and the necessity to include indirect population dynamic effects in models for predicting cascading extinctions in networks of interacting species.

  • Received June 15, 2012.
  • Accepted July 26, 2012.
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