Data from: Sudden collapse of a mesopredator reveals its complementary role in mediating rocky reef regime shifts
Burt, Jenn M. et al. (2018), Data from: Sudden collapse of a mesopredator reveals its complementary role in mediating rocky reef regime shifts, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.5r2q8t8
While changes in the abundance of keystone predators can have cascading effects resulting in regime shifts, the role of mesopredators in these processes remains underexplored. We conducted annual surveys of rocky reef communities that varied in the recovery of a keystone predator (sea otters Enhydra lutris) and the mass mortality of a mesopredator (sunflower sea star Pycnopodia helianthoides) due to an infectious wasting disease. By fitting a population model to empirical data, we show that sea otters had the greatest impact on the mortality of large sea urchins, but that Pycnopodia decline corresponded to a 311% increase in medium urchins and a 30% decline in kelp densities. Our results reveal predator complementarity in size-selective prey consumption strengthens top-down control on urchins, affecting the resilience of alternative reef states by reinforcing kelp forests and eroding urchin barrens. We reveal previously underappreciated species interactions within a 'classic' trophic cascade and regime shift, highlighting the critical role of middle-level predators in mediating rocky reef state transitions.