Cascading predator effects in a Fijian coral reef ecosystem
Coral reefs are among Earth’s best-studied ecosystems, yet the degree to which large predators influence the ecology of coral reefs remains an open and contentious question. Recent studies indicate the consumptive effects of large reef predators are too diffuse to elicit trophic cascades. Here, we provide evidence that such predators can produce non-consumptive (fear) effects that flow through herbivores to shape the distribution of seaweed on a coral reef. This trophic cascade emerged because reef topography, tidal oscillations, and shark hunting behaviour interact to create predictable “hot spots” of fear on the reef where herbivores withhold feeding and seaweeds gain a spatial refuge. Thus, in risky habitats, sharks can exert strong ecological impacts even though they are trophic generalists that rarely feed. These findings contextualize the debate over whether predators influence coral reef structure and function and move us to ask not if, but under what specific conditions, they generate trophic cascades.
Report an error or inaccuracy
Notice an error in the Literature item above? Please let us know in the comments section below. Thank you for helping us keep the Literature Library up-to-date!