Marine Science Faculty Publications


Disentangling Fine- and Broad- scale Effects of Habitat on Predator–prey Interactions Author Links Open Overlay Panel

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Predator–prey interactions can be influenced by habitat at different spatial scales. In seagrass systems, blade density can provide refugia for prey at fine scales, which are further embedded within broad-scale features such as variation in biotic (e.g., predator assemblages) and abiotic attributes (e.g., turbidity, salinity). Fine-scale effects of seagrass habitats on predator–prey interactions involving invertebrates have been well studied while less is known about their effects on fish as prey. A field experiment was conducted in Tampa Bay, Florida, USA to examine and separate the effects of habitat across fine and broad scales on the relative predation rates of tethered pinfish (Lagodon rhomboides). Artificial seagrass units (ASUs) were used at three levels of blade density and deployed in different locations within the seascape. Predation rates on pinfish decreased with increasing seagrass blade density. The effects of blade density were consistent across locations, but overall mortality was higher in the lower Bay, where the water was less turbid, higher in salinity, and characterized by a different suite of predators compared to the mid Bay. Using controlled-laboratory experiments, it was found that pinfish reduced their activity levels in more turbid water as well as in response to the presence of a common predator in both clear and more turbid waters. Thus, predation rates were influenced by the combined effects of refugia (fine scale), variation in prey behavior (broad scale), and detection by predators (both scales). This study demonstrates the strong influence habitat can have at different spatial scales in mediating predator–prey interactions of mobile species in estuarine environments.

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Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, v. 483, p. 10-19