3 years ago

Life stage and species identity affect whether habitat subsidies enhance or simply redistribute consumer biomass

Life stage and species identity affect whether habitat subsidies enhance or simply redistribute consumer biomass
F. Joel Fodrie, Rachel K. Bouchillon, Rachel K. Gittman, Danielle A. Keller
Quantifying the response of mobile consumers to changes in habitat availability is essential for determining the degree to which population-level productivity is habitat limited rather than regulated by other, potentially density-independent factors. Over landscape scales, this can be explored by monitoring changes in density and foraging as habitat availability varies. As habitat availability increases, densities may: (1) decrease (unit-area production decreases; weak habitat limitation); (2) remain stable (unit-area production remains stable; habitat limitation) or (3) increase (unit-area production increases; strong habitat limitation). We tested the response of mobile estuarine consumers over 5 months to changes in habitat availability in situ by comparing densities and feeding rates on artificial reefs that were or were not adjacent to neighbouring artificial reefs or nearby natural reefs. Using either constructed or natural reefs to manipulate habitat availability, we documented threefold density decreases among juvenile stone crabs as habitat increased (i.e. weak habitat imitation). However, for adult stone crabs, density remained stable across treatments, demonstrating that habitat limitation presents a bottleneck in this species’ later life history. Oyster toadfish densities also did not change with increasing habitat availability (i.e. habitat limitation), but densities of other cryptic fishes decreased as habitat availability increased (i.e. weak limitation). Feeding and abundance data suggested that some mobile fishes experience habitat limitation, or, potentially in one case, strong limitation across our habitat manipulations. These findings of significant, community-level habitat limitation provide insight into how global declines in structurally complex estuarine habitats may have reduced the fishery production of coastal ecosystems. The authors’ results indicate that species identity, life stage and behaviour drive whether a species is enhanced or simply redistributed across a landscape as habitat amount is subsidized. These findings provide insight for how global declines in structurally complex habitats may have reduced production of estuarine ecosystems.

Publisher URL: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/resolve/doi

DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12745

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