Non-consumptive effects of predators in coral reef communities and the indirect consequences of marine protected areas

Laura Bhatti Catano, Florida International University


Predators exert strong direct and indirect effects on ecological communities by intimidating their prey. Non-consumptive effects (NCEs) of predators are important features of many ecosystems and have changed the way we understand predator-prey interactions, but are not well understood in some systems. For my dissertation research I combined a variety of approaches to examine the effect of predation risk on herbivore foraging and reproductive behaviors in a coral reef ecosystem. In the first part of my dissertation, I investigated how diet and territoriality of herbivorous fish varied across multiple reefs with different levels of predator biomass in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. I show that both predator and damselfish abundance impacted diet diversity within populations for two herbivores in different ways. Additionally, reef protection and the associated recovery of large predators appeared to shape the trade-off reef herbivores made between territory size and quality. In the second part of my dissertation, I investigated context-dependent causal linkages between predation risk, herbivore foraging behavior and resource consumption in multiple field experiments. I found that reef complexity, predator hunting mode, light availability and prey hunger influenced prey perception of threat and their willingness to feed. This research argues for more emphasis on the role of predation risk in affecting individual herbivore foraging behavior in order to understand the implications of human-mediated predator removal and recovery in coral reef ecosystems.

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Recommended Citation

Catano, Laura Bhatti, "Non-consumptive effects of predators in coral reef communities and the indirect consequences of marine protected areas" (2014). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3705064.