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Predator diversity and density affect levels of predation upon strongly interactive species in temperate rocky reefs

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Abstract

Indirect effects of predators in the classic trophic cascade theory involve the effects of basal species (e.g. primary producers) mediated by predation upon strongly interactive consumers (e.g. grazers). The diversity and density of predators, and the way in which they interact, determine whether and how the effects of different predators on prey combine. Intraguild predation, for instance, was observed to dampen the effects of predators on prey in many ecosystems. In marine systems, species at high trophic levels are particularly susceptible to extinction (at least functionally). The loss of such species, which is mainly attributed to human activities (mostly fishing), is presently decreasing the diversity of marine predators in many areas of the world. Experimental studies that manipulate predator diversity and investigate the effects of this on strongly interactive consumers (i.e. those potentially capable of causing community-wide effects) in marine systems are scant, especially in the rocky sublittoral. I established an experiment that utilised cage enclosures to test whether the diversity and density of fish predators (two sea breams and two wrasses) would affect predation upon juvenile and adult sea urchins, the most important grazers in Mediterranean sublittoral rocky reefs. Changes in species identity (with sea breams producing major effects) and density of predators affected predation upon sea urchins more than changes in species richness per se. Predation upon adult sea urchins decreased in the presence of multiple predators, probably due to interference competition between sea breams and wrasses. This study suggests that factors that influence both fish predator diversity and density in Mediterranean rocky reefs (e.g. fishing and climate change) may have the potential to affect the predators’ ability to control sea urchin population density, with possible repercussions for the whole benthic community structure.

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Acknowledgements

This paper represents a contribution towards the aims of MARBEF, an EU Network of Excellence on “Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning” under EU-Framework Programme 6. The author benefited from a CNR (Italian National Centre for Research) fellowship in the framework of the “NATO-CNR senior fellowship programme 2002”. Many thanks are due to D.L. Finke, J. Stachowicz, E. Sala, L. Benedetti-Cecchi and F. Bulleri for their invaluable comments and suggestions on the manuscript. This paper is dedicated to little Elena, my baby, who recently come into the world.

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Correspondence to Paolo Guidetti.

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Guidetti, P. Predator diversity and density affect levels of predation upon strongly interactive species in temperate rocky reefs. Oecologia 154, 513–520 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-007-0845-5

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Keywords

  • Multiple predator effects
  • Strongly interactive prey
  • Trophic cascades
  • Mediterranean rocky reefs
  • Manipulative experiments