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Evaluating the effects of large marine predators on mobile prey behavior across subtropical reef ecosystems

Citation

Phenix, Lindsay et al. (2020), Evaluating the effects of large marine predators on mobile prey behavior across subtropical reef ecosystems, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.wm37pvmh5

Abstract

The indirect effect of predators on prey behavior, recruitment, and spatial relationships continues to attract considerable attention.  However, top predators like sharks or large, mobile teleosts, which can have substantial top-down effects in ecosystems, are often difficult to study due to their large size and mobility.  This has created a knowledge gap in understanding how they affect their prey through non-consumptive effects.  Here we investigated how different functional groups of predators affected potential prey fish populations across various habitats within Biscayne Bay, FL. Using baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs), we quantified predator abundance and activity as a rough proxy for predation risk, and analyzed key prey behaviors across coral reef, sea fan, seagrass, and sandy habitats.  Both predator abundance and prey arrival times to the bait were strongly influenced by habitat type, with open homogenous habitats receiving faster arrival times by prey. Other prey behaviors, such as residency and risk-associated behaviors, were potentially driven by predator interaction.  Our data suggest that small predators across functional groups do not have large controlling effects on prey behavior or stress responses over short temporal scales; however, habitats where predators are more unpredictable in their occurrence (i.e., open areas) may trigger risk-associated behaviors such as avoidance and vigilance. Our data shed new light on the importance of habitat and context for understanding how marine predators may influence prey behaviors in marine ecosystems.