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Effects of marine reserves on predator-prey interactions in central California kelp forests

Devona C. Yates, Steve I. Lonhart, Scott L. Hamilton*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Marine reserves are often designed to increase density, biomass, size structure, and biodiversity by prohibiting extractive activities. However, the recovery of predators following the establishment of marine reserves and the consequent cessation of fishing may have indirect negative effects on prey populations by increasing prey mortality. We coupled field surveys with empirical predation assays (i.e., tethering experiments) inside and outside of three no-take marine reserves in kelp forests along the central California coast to quantify the strength of interactions between predatory fishes and their crustacean prey. Results indicated elevated densities and biomass of invertebrate predators inside marine reserves compared to nearby fished sites, but no significant differences in prey densities. The increased abundance of predators inside marine reserves translated to a significant increase in mortality of two species of decapod crustaceans, the dock shrimp, Pandalus danae, and the cryptic kelp crab, Pugettia richii in tethering experiments. Shrimp mortality rates were 4.6 times greater, while crab mortality rates were 7 times greater inside reserves. For both prey species, the time to 50% mortality was negatively associated with the density and biomass of invertebrate predators (i.e., higher mortality rates where predators were more abundant). Video analyses indicated that macro-invertivore fishes arrived 2 times faster to tethering arrays at sites inside marine reserves and began attacking tethered prey more rapidly. The results indicate that marine reserves can have direct and indirect effects on predators and their prey, respectively, and highlight the importance of considering species interactions in making management decisions.