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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 487:101-111 (2013)  -  DOI:

Habitat complexity mediates predation of juvenile abalone by starfish

J. David Aguirre1,2,*, Douglas C. McNaught1,3

1School of Biological Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
2Present address: School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland 4072, Australia
3Present address: University of Maine at Machias, Environmental and Biological Sciences Division, Machias, Maine 04654, USA

ABSTRACT: Predation strongly influences the abundance and distribution of prey populations due to its disproportionately large effects on survival during the early life-history stages. However, the intensity of predation can vary dramatically among habitats. The habitat can directly affect the interaction between predator and prey; but also, by determining the distributions of predators and prey, the habitat can mediate the likelihood of a predatory encounter. Here, we used laboratory experiments to identify the likely predators of juvenile abalone Haliotis iris on temperate reefs in central New Zealand. Predator performance in the laboratory was assessed in conditions without prey refuge, in simulated juvenile habitat as well as in the presence of alternate prey. We then used surveys to compare the abundance of predators and juvenile abalone to explore if negative associations between predator and prey in the laboratory manifest in the field. Last, we manipulated algal habitat complexity at 2 depths and quantified the effect of predator exclusion on juvenile abalone survival in the field. We found that starfish were the likely predators of juvenile H. iris in our study system. Furthermore, predation of juvenile abalone by starfish was lowest in habitats with the greatest structural complexity, and there is evidence that predation by starfish in cobble habitats was size-dependent. Overall, we found that habitat variability mediates predation on juvenile abalone by determining the likelihood of an encounter between predator and prey.

KEY WORDS: Barrens · Macroalgae · Urchin · Haliotis · New Zealand

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Cite this article as: Aguirre JD, McNaught DC (2013) Habitat complexity mediates predation of juvenile abalone by starfish. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 487:101-111.

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