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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 649:21-33 (2020)  -  DOI:

Spatial variation in the effects of predator exclusion on epifaunal community development in seagrass beds

Dean S. Janiak1,*, Christopher J. Freeman1,2, Janina Seemann3, Justin E. Campbell1,4, Valerie J. Paul1, J. Emmett Duffy5

1Smithsonian Marine Station, Ft. Pierce, Florida 34949, USA
2Department of Biology, College of Charleston, Charleston, South Carolina 29424, USA
3Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado Postal 0843-03092, Balboa Ancon, Panama
4Department of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environment, Florida International University, Miami, Florida 33199, USA
5Tennenbaum Marine Observatories Network, Smithsonian Institution, Edgewater, Maryland 21037, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Biotic interactions have critical effects on the structure of ecological communities, and the variation in the strength of these interactions over space and time contributes to biogeographic variation in communities. Predation shapes community composition in a variety of habitats, although there have been comparatively few experimental studies of these effects across latitudinal scales. We tested the impact of predator exclusion on the development of epifaunal communities across 3 sites (Florida [USA], Belize, and Panama) in seagrass habitats dominated by Thalassia testudinum using caged and uncaged settlement panels. We found that predators altered composition and slowed development of epifaunal communities. The nature and magnitude of these effects, however, were complex, site-dependent, and tightly coupled to community development. Fast-growing, soft-bodied species dominated space when predators were excluded, while more resistant calcifying species were dominant in communities exposed to predators. In Panama, non-native ascidians dominated communities in cages, while ascidians were consumed when exposed to predators, indicating the importance of biotic resistance at that site. Predators also reduced the abundance of associated small mobile fauna, and the positive correlation between mobile faunal abundances and sessile biomass in our study suggests a potential indirect effect of predator-mediated habitat modification. Overall, prey characteristics were important in explaining the site-specific effects of predators on communities, indicating that taxonomic resolution can influence the results of multi-regional studies examining the mechanisms affecting community structure.

KEY WORDS: Fouling · Caging · Thalassia · Biotic interactions · Community

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Cite this article as: Janiak DS, Freeman CJ, Seemann J, Campbell JE, Paul VJ, Duffy JE (2020) Spatial variation in the effects of predator exclusion on epifaunal community development in seagrass beds. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 649:21-33.

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