Consumer fronts occur when grazers or predators aggregate in bands along the edges of a resource. Our review reveals that consumer fronts are a common phenomenon in nature, occur in many different ecosystems, and are triggered by universal mechanisms: External forces locally increase top-down control beyond prey carrying and/or renewal capacity, and resource-dependent movement leads to consumer aggregation along the edge of the remaining prey population. Once formed, consumer fronts move through systems as spatially propagating waves, self-reinforced via intense overexploitation and amplified by density-dependent feedbacks. When consumer fronts are spatially restricted, they generate patchiness. In contrast, when consumer fronts are expansive, they can lead to runaway responses that cause large-scale ecosystem degradation and regime shifts. We conceptualize a synergistic stress hypothesis and model that highlight how coupled intensification of physical stress and enhanced consumer pressure can trigger increased occurrence of consumer fronts and decreased system stability and resilience. With escalating climate change and food-web modification, the physical and biological conditions favoring consumer-front formation will likely become a common feature of many ecosystems.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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