MEPS 374:13-22 (2009)  -  DOI:

Habitat complexity alters lethal and non-lethal olfactory interactions between predators and prey

Matthew C. Ferner1,*, Delbert L. Smee2, Marc J. Weissburg3

1University of California-Davis, Bodega Marine Laboratory, PO Box 247, Bodega Bay, California 94923-0247, USA
2Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Department of Life Sciences, 6300 Ocean Drive, Corpus Christi, Texas 78412, USA
3Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology, 310 Ferst Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30332, USA

ABSTRACT: Habitat complexity often modifies rates of prey capture by visual predators, but little is known about how structural features affect non-visual olfactory consumers. Laboratory studies indicate that turbulent water flow over complex bedforms mixes chemical information in ways that confuse some olfactory foragers but improve the odor-tracking abilities of burrowing gastropods (whelks Busycon spp.). We augmented bottom roughness in a soft-sediment estuary to test the hypothesis that turbulent mixing of chemical attractants in the field increases whelk predation on hard clams Mercenaria mercenaria. Thin flat layers of shell fragments around the perimeter of experimental clam plots increased turbulent mixing of prey odors relative to those emanating from control plots. Assessment of prey mortality after 4 wk of exposure revealed that whelk predation on clams surrounded by shells was significantly higher than on clams surrounded by natural sediment. A second set of experiments showed that open prey plots containing a centrally caged (non-lethal) whelk experienced lower mortality due to avoidance responses of prey, but surrounding those plots with shells counteracted the non-lethal predator effect and led to significantly greater consumption by naturally foraging whelks. Shell treatments did not increase prey feeding or reduce predator interference. Results suggest that whelks hunt more successfully when bottom roughness increases turbulent mixing of prey chemicals or disrupts prey abilities to detect and respond to predator odors. When integrated over time, habitat-related differences in chemical transfer and olfactory behavior could have important implications for populations of both predators and prey.

KEY WORDS: Prey search · Predator avoidance · Sensory behavior · Hydrodynamics · Turbulence

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Cite this article as: Ferner MC, Smee DL, Weissburg MJ (2009) Habitat complexity alters lethal and non-lethal olfactory interactions between predators and prey. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 374:13-22.

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