Phytotelmata, the water-filled habitats in pitcher plants, bromeliad tanks, and tree-holes, host multitrophic food webs that are model experimental systems for studying food-web structure and dynamics. However, the plant usually is considered simply as an inert container, not as an interacting part of the food web. We used a manipulative field experiment with a response-surface design to determine effects of nutrient enrichment (multiple levels of NH4NO3, PO4, and captured prey), top predators (removed or present), and the plant itself (with or without plastic tubes inserted into the pitchers to isolate the food web from the plant) on the macrobial food web within the modified leaves (“pitchers”) of the carnivorous pitcher plant Sarracenia purpurea. Connection to the plant, addition of NH4NO3, and removal of the top predator significantly increased the food web's saturation, defined as its trophic depth and number of interactions. No effects on food-web saturation resulted from addition of PO4 or supplemental prey. Plants such as S. purpurea that create phytotelmata are more than inert containers and their inhabitants are more than commensal inquilines. Rather, both the plant and the inquilines are partners in a complex network of interactions.
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Vol. 186 • No. 1