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Does removal of an alien predator from small islands in the Baltic Sea induce a trophic cascade?

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Changes in carnivore abundance can alter the distribution and abundance of plants on a community wide basis, an effect known as a trophic cascade. Because alien predators can have a disproportionate impact, compared to native predators, on herbivore populations, they may induce stronger trophic cascades in plant communities than native predators. We studied the indirect effects of the removal of an alien predator, the American mink Mustela vison on plant communities on small islands in the Baltic Sea, SW Finland. Mink had been removed from a group of islands for 12 yr, while another group of islands with mink presence served as a control area. Field voles Microtus agrestis and bank voles Myodes glareolus exert strong grazing pressure on the island vegetation and are an important part of mink diet. On nine islands of the mink removal area and five islands of the control area we studied the vegetation in ten randomly chosen plots; five in herbaceous and five in woody (i.e. dwarf shrub) vegetation. We studied the cascading impacts of mink predation on grassy and woody vegetation using the Shannon diversity and equitability indices and comparing abundances of different species between mink removal and control islands. Diversity and equitability of plant communities were higher on mink removal islands. In grassy patches, abundances of several species differed between mink removal and control islands. Our results demonstrate, for the first time, that alien predator removal may induce a trophic cascade on small islands.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: June 1, 2009

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