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As upper-level predatory fishes become overfished, mesopredators rise to become the new ‘top’ predators of overexploited marine communities. To gain insight into ensuing mechanisms that might alter indirect species interactions, we examined how behavioural responses to an upper-level predatory fish might differ between mesopredator species with different life histories. In rocky reefs of the northeast Pacific Ocean, adult lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) are upper-level predators that use a sit-and-wait hunting mode. Reef mesopredators that are prey to adult lingcod include kelp greenling (Hexagrammos decagrammus), younger lingcod, copper rockfish (Sebastes caurinus) and quillback rockfish (S. maliger). Across these mesopredators species, longevity and age at maturity increases and, consequently, the annual proportion of lifetime reproductive output decreases in the order just listed. Therefore, we hypothesized that the level of risk taken to acquire resources would vary interspecifically in that same order. During field experiments we manipulated predation risk with a model adult lingcod and used fixed video cameras to quantify interactions between mesopredators and tethered prey (Pandalus shrimps). We predicted that the probabilities of inspecting and attacking tethered prey would rank from highest to lowest and the timing of these behaviours would rank from earliest to latest as follows: kelp greenling, lingcod, copper rockfish, and quillback rockfish. We also predicted that responses to the model lingcod, such as avoidance of interactions with tethered prey, would rank from weakest to strongest in the same order. Results were consistent with our predictions suggesting that, despite occupying similar trophic levels, longer-lived mesopredators with late maturity have stronger antipredator responses and therefore experience lower foraging rates in the presence of predators than mesopredators with faster life histories. The corollary is that the fishery removal of top predators, which relaxes predation risk, could potentially lead to stronger increases in foraging rates for mesopredators with slower life histories.


Originally published in PLoS One.

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