Size-related mortality due to gnathiid isopod micropredation correlates with settlement size in coral reef fishes

Grutter, A.S., Blomberg, S.P., Fargher, B., Kuris, A.M., McCormick, M.I., and Warner, R.R. (2017) Size-related mortality due to gnathiid isopod micropredation correlates with settlement size in coral reef fishes. Coral Reefs, 36 (2). pp. 549-559.

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The transition between the planktonic and the benthic habitat is a critical period for the larvae of many demersal marine organisms. Understanding the potential constraints on the timing of this habitat transition, called settlement, is important to understanding their biology. Size-specific mortality can set the limits on lifestyle and help explain ontogenetic habitat shifts. We examined whether size-based mortality risks after settlement may include micropredation by ectoparasites by testing whether survival of settlement-stage fish varies with fish size when exposed to a reef-associated micropredator. Fish (14 species) were exposed to one blood-sucking gnathiid isopod overnight, with appropriate controls; gnathiid feeding success and survival, and fish mortality were recorded relative to fish size. After adjusting for fish relatedness, we found the relationship between fish mortality and size differed with gnathiid exposure: for gnathiid-exposed fish, the mean mortality of the smallest fish was much higher (57%) than unexposed controls (10%), and decreased to similar to 0% for fish > 12 mm standard length (SL); mortality was almost nil in controls. Thus, a predicted optimal size to switch habitat and reduce mortality risk from micropredation should be > 12 mm SL. We then asked what species might be at greater risk and if the steep increase in survival at similar to 12 mm SL might coincide with settlement at larger sizes among fishes. Across 102 other species (32 families), 61% settled at 12 mm SL. After adjusting for relatedness, mean fish settlement size was 15.0 mm and this was not significantly different from 12 mm. Thus, settlement size clusters around the minimum fish size threshold our gnathiid experiment predicted would be large enough to survive a gnathiid encounter. These results suggest micropredators may contribute to size-selective mortality during settlement processes and are consistent with the hypothesis that the pelagic phase provides fish an escape from certain micropredators.

Item ID: 50724
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1432-0975
Keywords: ectoparasites, size-selective mortality, fish settlement processes, gnathiidae
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC), University of Queensland (UQ)
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2017 11:20
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 100%
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