Predators indirectly reduce the prevalence of an insect-vectored plant pathogen independent of predator diversity.
A widely cited benefit of predator diversity is greater suppression of insect herbivores, with corresponding increases in plant biomass. In the context of a vector-borne pathogen system, predator species richness may also influence plant disease risk via the direct effects of predators on the abundance and behavior of herbivores that also act as pathogen vectors. Using an assemblage of generalist insect predators, we examined the relationship between predator species richness and the prevalence of the aphid-vectored cereal yellow dwarf virus in wheat. We found that increasing predator richness enhanced suppression of the vector population and that pathogen prevalence was reduced when predators were present, but the reduction in prevalence was independent of predator species richness. To determine the mechanism(s) by which predator species richness contributes to vector suppression, but not pathogen prevalence, we evaluated vector movement and host plant occupancy in response to predator treatments. We found that pathogen prevalence was unrelated to vector suppression because host plant occupancy by vectors did not vary as a function of vector abundance. However, the presence of predators reduced pathogen prevalence because predators stimulated greater plant-to-plant movement by vectors, which likely diminished vector feeding time and reduced the transmission efficiency of this persistent pathogen. We conclude that community structure (i.e., the presence of predators), but not predator diversity, is a potential factor influencing local plant infection by this insect-vectored pathogen.