Types of the Trophic Cascade:
There are three types of a trophic cascade, which are as follows:
1. Top-Down Cascade: This cascade takes place when the top consumer or top predator controls the population of the primary consumer. The removal of the top predator affects food web dynamics. If top predators are affected, then the primary consumers will thrive and overpopulate, which will lead to overexploitation of primary producers. Hence, there will not be enough producers to feed the consumer population. This limit in the producer population will create competition between the consumer population and some will starve to death. The stability of the top-down cascade is dependent on competition and predation in higher trophic levels. Some invasive species can replace the apex predator and trigger the cascade, but this interaction may not necessarily be negative. An example of this cascade would be the abundance of piscivorous fish in a lake. The smaller fish that eats zooplankton, which is the prey of piscivorous fishes, will decline in number. Accordingly, the phytoplankton, which are the prey for zooplankton, will decrease leading to an imbalance in the food chain ecosystem.
2. Bottom-Up Cascade: The increase or decrease in the energy of the higher trophic levels is always controlled by the population of the primary producers. Plants and phytoplankton are the primary producers that require photosynthesis. Light is used by the primary producers and the nutrients are also important and the food web highly relies on the limitation and availability of these nutrient resources. Populations of all trophic levels will be affected if there is an imbalance in the initial nutrient availability in the ecosystem.
Top-down and bottom-up trophic cascade
3. Subsidy Cascade: Subsidy cascade occurs when a species of one trophic level is supplemented by external food. Native animals can feed on resources that do not originate from their habitat. This may increase the local abundance of the native animals that can affect other species at the trophic level causing an ecological cascade. For example, crop-raiding wild boar built nests in the forest understory vegetation and caused a 62% decline in forest tree sapling density. These cross-boundary cascades are widespread in terrestrial and marine ecosystems and cause significant conservation challenges.
Biomanipulation is a method in which the ecosystem is deliberately altered by the addition and removal of certain species. A biomanipulation experiment conducted by Dutch scientists improves water quality in shallow lakes, which is based on the trophic cascade. The addition of organic effluents to the shallow lake provides excess nutrients to phytoplankton that result in massive algal blooms forming and unsightly mats and bringing down the water quality. Zooplankton (feed on the phytoplankton) decreased in number due to their predation by planktivorous fish (bream). Efforts for control release of the organic effluents were marginally effective; hence, the scientists wanted to try biomanipulation. Several piscivorous fishes were introduced into the degraded freshwater system. These piscivorous fishes that feed on the bream helped in reducing the bream population. This led to increased biomass of zooplanktons as they were relieved from the predation pressure from the bream. Hence, the large number of zooplanktons brought down the algal bloom by feeding on phytoplankton and significantly improved the water quality.
2. Kelp beds:
Kelp (giant floating brown algae) flourishes in the coastal waters of the Pacific Ocean, importantly in Alaska. Kelp grows very dense in the area and forms a kelp forest under the sea that supports diverse populations of fishes and invertebrates. There is a three-level food chain in that the otters feed on sea urchins that graze on the kelp. In the 1990s, orca (killer whale) entered the kelp ecosystem, which usually feeds on sea lions and harbor seals. According to a hypothesis, the sea lions and harbor seals vanished as they moved away to find more profitable feeding grounds. This led the orcas to switch their prey to otter. which led to a cascading effect. The decrease in the number of otters due to predation by orcas led to an increase in the sea urchin population, which grazed away from the kelp. Thus, the 1990s witnessed a great loss of the kelp ecosystem, which also led to a decline in the fish and invertebrate community.
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