Posts tagged Predation
Predator density and the functional responses of coral reef fish

Predation is a key process driving coral reef fish population dynamics, with higher per capita prey mortality rates on reefs with more predators. Reef predators often forage together, and at high densities, they may either cooperate or antagonize one another, thereby causing prey mortality rates to be substantially higher or lower than one would expect if predators did not interact. However, we have a limited mechanistic understanding of how prey mortality rates change with predator densities. We re-analyzed a previously published observational dataset to investigate how the foraging response of the coney grouper (Cephalopholis fulva) feeding on the bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum) changed with shifts in predator and prey densities. Using a model-selection approach, we found that per-predator feeding rates were most consistent with a functional response that declines as predator density increases, suggesting either antagonistic interactions among predators or a shared antipredator behavioral response by the prey. Our findings suggest that variation in predator density (natural or anthropogenic) may have substantial consequences for coral reef fish population dynamics.

This paper was authored by A.C. Stier (me) and J.W. White. 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.