Data from: Exploitation and recovery of a sea urchin predator has implications for the resilience of southern California kelp forests
Hamilton, Scott L.; Caselle, Jennifer E. (2014), Data from: Exploitation and recovery of a sea urchin predator has implications for the resilience of southern California kelp forests, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.79qd9
Size-structured predator–prey interactions can be altered by the history of exploitation, if that exploitation is itself size-selective. For example, selective harvesting of larger sized predators can release prey populations in cases where only large individuals are capable of consuming a particular prey species. In this study, we examined how the history of exploitation and recovery (inside marine reserves and due to fisheries management) of California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) has affected size-structured interactions with sea urchin prey in southern California. We show that fishing changes size structure by reducing sizes and alters life histories of sheephead, while management measures that lessen or remove fishing impacts (e.g. marine reserves, effort restrictions) reverse these effects and result in increases in density, size and biomass. We show that predation on sea urchins is size-dependent, such that the diet of larger sheephead is composed of more and larger sized urchins than the diet of smaller fish. These results have implications for kelp forest resilience, because urchins can overgraze kelp in the absence of top-down control. From surveys in a network of marine reserves, we report negative relationships between the abundance of sheephead and urchins and the abundance of urchins and fleshy macroalgae (including giant kelp), indicating the potential for cascading indirect positive effects of top predators on the abundance of primary producers. Management measures such as increased minimum size limits and marine reserves may serve to restore historical trophic roles of key predators and thereby enhance the resilience of marine ecosystems.