Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Intrapopulation variation, Behavioral ecology, Food web, Individual specialization, Movement patterns, Stable isotopes, Diet, Exclusion experiment, Predator-prey interactions, Coastal wetland
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Body size is a fundamental structural characteristic of organisms, determining critical life history and physiological traits, and influencing population dynamics, community structure, and ecosystem function. For my dissertation, I focused on effects of body size on habitat use and diet of important coastal fish predators, as well as their influence on faunal communities in Bahamian wetlands. First, using acoustic telemetry and stable isotope analysis, I identified high variability in movement patterns and habitat use among individuals within a gray snapper (Lutjanus griseus) and schoolmaster snapper (L. apodus) population. This intrapopulation variation was not explained by body size, but by individual behavior in habitat use. Isotope values differed between individuals that moved further distances and individuals that stayed close to their home sites, suggesting movement differences were related to specific patterns of foraging behavior. Subsequently, while investigating diet of schoolmaster snapper over a two-year period using stomach content and stable isotope analyses, I also found intrapopulation diet variation, mostly explained by differences in size class, individual behavior and temporal variability. I then developed a hypothesis-testing framework examining intrapopulation niche variation between size classes using stable isotopes. This framework can serve as baseline to categorize taxonomic or functional groupings into specific niche shift scenarios, as well as to help elucidate underlying mechanisms causing niche shifts in certain size classes. Finally, I examined the effect of different-sized fish predators on epifaunal community structure in shallow seagrass beds using exclusion experiments at two spatial scales. Overall, I found that predator effects were rather weak, with predator size and spatial scale having no impact on the community. Yet, I also found some evidence of strong interactions on particular common snapper prey. As Bahamian wetlands are increasingly threatened by human activities (e.g., overexploitation, habitat degradation), an enhanced knowledge of the ecology of organisms inhabiting these systems is crucial for developing appropriate conservation and management strategies. My dissertation research contributed to this effort by providing critical information about the resource use of important Bahamian fish predators, as well as their effect on faunal seagrass communities.
Hammerschlag-Peyer, Caroline M., "The Influence of Body Size on the Ecology of Coastal Fish Predators in The Bahamas" (2011). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 502.