Selective mortality of a coral reef damselfish: Role of predator-competitor synergisms

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Journal Article
Oecologia, 2008, 156 (1), pp. 215 - 226
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Phenotypic variability within cohorts of juvenile organisms can serve as the basis for selective mortality. Previous studies have demonstrated the important role that predators play in this process but not the impact of competitors on selective predation. We use a combination of lab and field studies to evaluate the effect of the presence of adult competitor damselfish (Dascyllus aruanus and Pomacentrus moluccensis; family Pomacentridae) on the selective mortality of newly-arrived (settled) lemon damselfish (P. moluccensis) by resident predator fishes (Pseudochromis fuscus Pseudochromidae and Cheilodipterus quinquelineatus Apogonidae). Lab trials consisted of mesocosm experiments in which the behaviour, mortality, and physiological condition (measured as lipid content) of surviving P. moluccensis settlers from each of three treatments: (1) predators absent, (2) predators present, and (3) predators and competitors present, were compared. The field study involved stocking newly settled P. moluccensis on natural bommies (patch reefs) which had either been subject to a partial removal of resident fish (predators and competitors) or left alone. Results indicated there was very strong condition-based selective mortality in both the lab and field trials. In both cases there was a strong positive relationship between mortality and the lipid content of surviving fish; implying low-condition fish were selectively removed. The mesocosm trials indicated that the strength of mortality as well as condition selectivity was higher when competitors were present than when they were absent. Behavioural observations in the mesocosm study suggest that attention by juvenile P. moluccensis to the movements and occasional chases of the competitors (especially D. aruanus) reduced their vigilance to the predators. These results suggest the important and interactive roles which condition of newly settled reef fish and interspecific competition can play in the outcomes of post-settlement predation. © 2008 Springer-Verlag.
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