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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 523:267-281 (2015)  -  DOI:

Behavioural drivers of the ecological roles and importance of marine mammals

Jeremy J. Kiszka1,*, Michael R. Heithaus1, Aaron J. Wirsing

1Marine Sciences Program, Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, 3000 NE 151St, North Miami, FL 33181, USA
2School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Marine mammals feed at a variety of trophic levels, occur from freshwater to open-ocean ecosystems and are found across virtually all latitudes. Due to their high historical, and sometimes present-day, abundances, capability for large-scale movements and high metabolic rates, they have the potential to affect the structure and function of ecosystems through a variety of mechanisms over both ecological and evolutionary time. Usually, the effects of marine mammals on ecosystems are explicitly or implicitly considered to occur through their ability to remove prey through direct predation. Recent empirical studies and a rich theoretical framework, however, demonstrate that marine mammals can affect ecosystems through more diverse pathways, including those that are driven by marine mammal behaviour. Thus, non-consumptive effects of and on marine mammals may be critical in shaping their ecological importance. Non-consumptive effects may include risk effects, whereby predators induce costly changes to prey behaviour that impact prey population sizes or the magnitude and spatiotemporal patterns of prey impacts on communities (e.g. behaviour-mediated trophic cascades). Changes in the abundance of large apex predators (both marine mammals and sharks) and the introduction of perceived and real risks (human disturbance) may also affect behaviours of marine mammals and their prey that cascade to the wider ecosystem; the conditions under which such cascading effects might be most important, however, remain poorly understood. Other behaviour-driven ecological roles of marine mammals may include foraging tactics that facilitate the foraging of other species (especially seabirds), translocating nutrients and linking the dynamics of spatially distinct food webs.

KEY WORDS: Marine mammals · Risk effects · Behaviourally mediated indirect interactions · BMII · Nutrient transport · Behavioural facilitation

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Cite this article as: Kiszka JJ, Heithaus MR, Wirsing AJ (2015) Behavioural drivers of the ecological roles and importance of marine mammals. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 523:267-281.

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