Intraspecific variation in body size does not alter the effects of mesopredators on prey

As humans continue to alter the species composition and size structure of marine food webs, it is critical to understand size-dependent effects of predators on prey. Yet, how shifts in predator body size mediate the effect of predators is understudied in tropical marine ecosystems, where anthropogenic harvest has indirectly increased the density and size of small-bodied predators. Here, we combine field surveys and a laboratory feeding experiment in coral reef fish communities to show that small and large predators of the same species can have similar effects. Specifically, surveys show that the presence of a small predator (Paracirrhites arcatus) was correlated with lower chances of prey fish presence, but these correlations were independent of predator size. Experimental trials corroborated the size-independent effect of the predator; attack rates were indistinguishable between small and large predators, suggesting relatively even effects of hawkfish in various size classes on the same type of prey. Our results indicate that the effects of small predators on coral reefs can be size-independent, suggesting that variation in predator size-structure alone may not always affect the functional role of these predators.

This paper was authored by Austin J. Gallagher, Simon J. Brandl, and Adrian C. Stier (me). A copy of this manuscript can be found here, or email me directly to request a PDF. 

Adrian Stier