TitleCompetition, predation, and density-dependent mortality in demersal marine fishes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsHixon, MA, Jones, GP
Type of ArticleJournal Article

The relative roles of competition and predation in demographic density dependence are poorly known. A tractable experimental design to determine such effects and their interactions for demersal (seafloor oriented) fishes and similar sedentary species is cross-factoring multiple densities of new recruits with the presence and absence of predators. This design allows one to distinguish between density-dependent mortality due to competition alone, predation alone, or an interaction between the two, especially when supplemental field observations are available. To date, 14 species of marine fish have been examined with some variant of this design, and for 12 species predation was demonstrated to be the sole or major cause of density dependence. However, as competition may be slow acting relative to predation, the importance of competition can be underestimated in short-term experiments. On the Great Barrier Reef, we conducted a long-term field experiment in which multiple densities of new recruits of a planktivorous damselfish were cross-factored with the presence or absence of resident piscivorous fish on patch reefs. During the first 10,months, no density-dependent mortality was detected, regardless of whether resident predators were present or absent. By the end of the experiment at 17 months, per capita mortality was strongly density dependent and highly compensatory in both predator treatments; all reefs ultimately supported nearly the same adult density regardless of experimental treatment. Examination of treatment effect sizes suggested that competition was the main source of density-dependent mortality, with predation being merely a proximate agent of death. We hypothesize that predators were ineffective in this system compared with similar studies elsewhere because prey density was low relative to ample prey refuges provided by highly complex corals. Combined with previous studies, these findings indicate that density-dependent mortality in demersal marine fishes is often caused by interplay of predation and competition, whose roles may be altered by variation in habitat complexity and larval supply. These conclusions are relevant to marine fisheries models, which typically assume that density dependence is due solely to intraspecific competition.

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