While organisms are typically considered permanent residents of a community, many transient organisms occupy a community for only brief periods. Despite the duration, the effects of a short visit by a top predator may remain long after departure. To test hypotheses on the impacts of a short-term visit by a top predator on pond communities, we used artificial ponds and constructed food web treatments that varied in trophic structure (Control Food Web = no predators present, Bluegill Food Web = only intermediate predators present, and Full Food Web = top and intermediate predators present). The constructed food webs were replicated five times and contained two prey species (frog tadpoles), an intermediate predator (fish), and one top predator (freshwater turtle). The Full Food Web simulated a four-day visit by Chelydra serpentina (Common Snapping Turtle). Predation by Lepomis macrochirus (Bluegill) reduced mean tadpole survival for Hyla chrysoscelis (Cope's Gray Tree Frog) in all food webs, including the Full Food Web with C. serpentina, compared to the Control Food Web. Although C. serpentina had no effects on tadpoles of H. chrysoscelis, the top predator reduced mean survival and increased mean mass of Rana sphenocephala (Southern Leopard Frog) when compared to the Bluegill Food Web. Therefore, our results suggest that brief visits from transient organisms, especially top predators, can alter community structure and initiate cascading effects.

You do not currently have access to this content.