Cascading predator effects in a Fijian coral reef ecosystem

Rasher, Douglas B., Hoey, Andrew S., and Hay, Mark E. (2017) Cascading predator effects in a Fijian coral reef ecosystem. Scientific Reports, 7. 15684.

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Coral reefs are among Earth's best-studied ecosystems, yet the degree to which large predators influence the ecology of coral reefs remains an open and contentious question. Recent studies indicate the consumptive effects of large reef predators are too diffuse to elicit trophic cascades. Here, we provide evidence that such predators can produce non-consumptive (fear) effects that flow through herbivores to shape the distribution of seaweed on a coral reef. This trophic cascade emerged because reef topography, tidal oscillations, and shark hunting behaviour interact to create predictable "hot spots" of fear on the reef where herbivores withhold feeding and seaweeds gain a spatial refuge. Thus, in risky habitats, sharks can exert strong ecological impacts even though they are trophic generalists that rarely feed. These findings contextualize the debate over whether predators influence coral reef structure and function and move us to ask not if, but under what specific conditions, they generate trophic cascades.

Item ID: 51670
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2045-2322
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Funders: National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Teasley Endowment, Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: NSF OCE0929119, NIH U19TW007401, ARC DE130100688
Date Deposited: 29 Nov 2017 07:30
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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