The relative influence of abundance and priority effects on colonization success in a coral-reef fish

The sequence of species colonization is increasingly recognized as an important determinant of community structure, yet the significance of sequence of arrival relative to colonizer abundance is seldom assessed. We manipulated the magnitude and timing of coral-reef fish settlement to investigate whether the competitive dominance of early-arriving Ambon damselfish (i.e., a priority effect) decreased in strength with increasing abundance of late-arriving lemon damselfish. Sequence of arrival had a stronger effect on survival than the number of competing individuals. Relative to when both species arrived simultaneously, lemon damselfish were less aggressive, avoided competitive interactions more frequently and experienced depressed survival when they arrived later than Ambon damselfish, with these effects occurring independently of lemon damselfish abundance. These results suggest priority effects are more important than colonizer abundance and should motivate the integration of priority effects into future studies of density dependence to determine their relative importance.

This paper was authored by Shane W. Geange, Davina E. Poulos, Adrian C. Stier (me), and Mark I. McCormick. You can find a copy of the manuscript here, or contact me directly for a PDF

Adrian Stier