Species interactions are often context dependent, where outcomes vary in response to one or more environmental factors. It remains unclear how abiotic conditions like temperature combine with biotic factors such as consumer density or food quality to affect resource availability or influence species interactions. Using the large grasshopper Melanoplus bivittatus (Say) and a common wolf spider [Rabidosa rabida (Walkenaer)], we conducted manipulative field experiments in tallgrass prairie to examine how spider—grasshopper interactions respond to manipulations of temperature, grasshopper density, and food quality. Grasshopper survival was density dependent, as were the effects of spider presence and food quality in context-dependent ways. In high grasshopper density treatments, predation resulted in increased grasshopper survival, likely as a result of reduced intraspecific competition in the presence of spiders. Spiders had no effect on grasshopper survival when grasshoppers were stocked at low densities. Effects of the experimental treatments were often interdependent so that effects were only observed when examined together with other treatments. The occurrence of trophic cascades was context dependent, where the effects of food quality and spider presence varied with temperature under high-density treatments. Temperature weakly affected the impact of spider presence on M. bivittatus survivorship when all treatments were considered simultaneously, but different context-dependent responses to spider presence and food quality were observed among the three temperature treatments under highdensity conditions. Our results indicate that context-dependent species interactions are common and highlight the importance of understanding how key biotic and abiotic factors combine to influence species interactions.
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Vol. 44 • No. 3