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In the light of ongoing land use changes, it is important to understand how multitrophic communities perform at different land use intensities. The paradox of enrichment predicts that fertilization leads to destabilization and extinction of predator-prey systems. We tested this prediction for a land use intensity gradient from natural to highly fertilized agricultural ecosystems. We included multiple aboveground and belowground trophic levels and land use-dependent searching efficiencies of insects. To overcome logistic constraints of field experiments, we used a successfully validated simulation model to investigate plant responses to removal of herbivores and their enemies. Consistent with our predictions, instability measured by herbivore-induced plant mortality increased with increasing land use intensity. Simultaneously, the balance between herbivores and natural enemies turned increasingly towards herbivore dominance and natural enemy failure. Under natural conditions, there were more frequently significant effects of belowground herbivores and their natural enemies on plant performance, whereas there were more aboveground effects in agroecosystems. This result was partly due to the “boom-bust” behavior of the shoot herbivore population. Plant responses to herbivore or natural enemy removal were much more abrupt than the imposed smooth land use intensity gradient. This may be due to the presence of multiple trophic levels aboveground and belowground. Our model suggests that destabilization and extinction are more likely to occur in agroecosystems than in natural communities, but the shape of the relationship is nonlinear under the influence of multiple trophic interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere49034
JournalPLoS One
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2012

    Research areas

  • international

ID: 275794