TitleSpecies interaction strength: Testing model predictions along an upwelling gradient
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsMenge, B, Blanchette, C, Raimondi, P, Freidenburg, T, Gaines, S, Lubchenco, J, Lohse, D, Hudson, G, Foley, M, Pamplin, J
JournalEcological Monographs
Type of ArticleJournal Article

A recent model predicts that species interactions in benthic marine communities vary predictably with upwelling regimes. To test this model, we studied the Pisaster-Mytilus interaction at 14 rocky intertidal sites distributed among three oceanographic regions along a 1300-km stretch of the U.S. West Coast. Regions included an intermittent-upwelling region (northern), a persistent-upwelling region (central), and a region of weak and infrequent upwelling (southern). We quantified predation rates by the sea star Pisaster ochraceus on its main prey Mytilus californianus by transplanting mussels into the sea star's low-zone foraging range and comparing the rate of mussel loss in +Pisaster plots to those in -Pisaster plots. To evaluate the relation between predation rates and key ecological processes and conditions, we quantified phytoplankton concentration and rates of mussel recruitment, mussel growth, mussel abundance, and sea star abundance. Predictions of the model are expressed as responses of predator and prey abundance, and species' interaction strength (per capita and per population or total impact at the population level). As predicted by theory, per capita predation rates were independent, of upwelling regime, with no variation with region. Contrary to expectation however, perpopulation predation rates were similar between intermittent- and persistent-upwelling regions but were greater under strong upwelling than under weak upwelling conditions. The greatest variation in per-population predation rates was at the level of site within region. Also contrary to theory, average abundances of prey (mussel cover) and predators (sea stars) were similar among oceanographic regions and varied mostly at the. site level. As expected from theory, predation rate was high where sea star density was high, a condition that often coincided with a high food supply (phytoplankton) for filter feeders, including larvae, and high recruitment. With the exception of two sites having dense sea star populations and thus high predation, low values of either or both were associated with low predation, suggesting that the supply of prey often depended on conditions that favored subsidies of both phytoplankton and new larvae to prey populations. The occurrence of high predator density and high predation at sites of low inputs of particulate food and propagules suggests that understanding sea star life history is a key to a fuller understanding of variation in predation on a coastal scale. Evidence suggests that often sporadic recruitment of sea stars along the coast is balanced by great longevity, which tends to even out predation impact on coastal intertidal communities.

URL<Go to ISI>://WOS:000225176500006