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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

From bottom-up to top-down control of invertebrate herbivores in a retrogressive chronosequence

Kempel, Anne; Allan, Eric; Gossner, Martin M.; Jochum, Malte; Grace, James B.; Wardle, David A.


In the long-term absence of disturbance, ecosystems often enter a decline or retrogressive phase which leads to reductions in primary productivity, plant biomass, nutrient cycling and foliar quality. However, the consequences of ecosystem retrogression for higher trophic levels such as herbivores and predators, are less clear. Using a post-fire forested island-chronosequence across which retrogression occurs, we provide evidence that nutrient availability strongly controls invertebrate herbivore biomass when predators are few, but that there is a switch from bottom-up to top-down control when predators are common. This trophic flip in herbivore control probably arises because invertebrate predators respond to alternative energy channels from the adjacent aquatic matrix, which were independent of terrestrial plant biomass. Our results suggest that effects of nutrient limitation resulting from ecosystem retrogression on trophic cascades are modified by nutrient-independent variation in predator abundance, and this calls for a more holistic approach to trophic ecology to better understand herbivore effects on plant communities.


apparent competition; bottom-up control; cross-ecosystem flows; ecosystem retrogression; exploitation ecosystem hypothesis; plant-herbivore interactions; soil fertility gradient; top-down control

Published in

Ecology Letters
2023, volume: 26, number: 3, pages: 411-424
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Kempel, Anne
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL)
Kempel, Anne
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Kempel, Anne
University of Bern
Allan, Eric
University of Bern
Gossner, Martin M.
ETH Zurich
Gossner, Martin M.
Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology Domain
Jochum, Malte
Leipzig University
Grace, James B.
United States Department of the Interior
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

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