Posts tagged Coral reef
Biodiversity effects of the predation gauntlet

The ubiquity of trophic downgrading has led to interest in the consequences of mesopredator release on prey communities and ecosystems. This issue is of particular concern for reef-fish communities, where predation is a key process driving ecological and evolutionary dynamics. Here, we synthesize existing experiments that have isolated the effects of mesopredators to quantify the role of predation in driving changes in the abundance and biodiversity of recently settled reef fishes. On average, predators reduced prey abundance through generalist foraging behavior, which, through a statistical sampling artifact, caused a reduction in alpha diversity and an increase in beta diversity. Thus, the synthesized experiments provide evidence that predation reduces overall abundance within prey communities, but—after accounting for sampling effects—does not cause disproportionate effects on biodiversity.

This paper was authored by Adrian C. Stier (me), Christopher D. Stallings, Jameal F. Samhouri, Mark A. Albins, and Glenn R. Almany. You can find a copy of the manuscript here, or contact me directly for a PDF. 

Coral density and predation affect growth of a reef-building coral

The influence of predation on the growth of stony corals has gained increased attention, although the degree to which coral conspecific density can modify the effects of corallivores remains poorly studied. Here, a field experiment was used to quantify the independent and combined effects of coral colony density and coral predators on the skeletal growth of massive Porites. Predator exclusion increased coral growth by 20%. Increasing coral density increased growth by 30%. However, the effect of predators was independent of coral density. Possible alternative mechanisms for increased skeletal growth at higher colony density include changes in near-field flow, resulting in increases in photosynthetic activity, nutrient uptake, or the increased accessibility of coral mutualists.

This paper was authored by A. A. Shantz, A. C. Stier (me), and J. A. Idjadi. You can find a copy of the manuscript here, or contact me directly for a PDF. 

Predators reduce abundance and species richness of coral reef fish recruits via non-selective predation

Predators have important effects on coral reef fish populations, but their effects on community structure have only recently been investigated and are not yet well understood. Here, the effect of predation on the diversity and abundance of young coral reef fishes was experimentally examined in Moorea, French Polynesia. Effects of predators were quantified by monitoring recruitment of fishes onto standardized patch reefs in predator-exclosure cages or uncaged reefs. At the end of the 54-day experiment, recruits were 74% less abundant on reefs exposed to predators than on caged ones, and species richness was 42% lower on reefs exposed to predators. Effects of predators varied somewhat among families, however, rarefaction analysis indicated that predators foraged non-selectively among species. These results indicate that predation can alter diversity of reef fish communities by indiscriminately reducing the abundance of fishes soon after settlement, thereby reducing the number of species present on reefs.

This paper was authored by J.M. Heinlein, A.C. Stier (me), and M.A. Steele. You can find a copy of the manuscript here, or contact me directly for a PDF.