, Volume 153, Issue 6, pp 1233-1244
Date: 19 Jan 2008

The effect of predation on artificial reef juvenile demersal fish species

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There is a concern that artificial reefs (AR) may act purely as fishing aggregation devices. Predators attracted to ARs can influence the distribution and abundance of prey fish species. Determining the role of predators in AR is important in advancing the understanding of community interactions. This paper documents the effects of predation on fish assemblages of AR located near a coastal lagoon fish nursery. The Dicentrarchus labrax is a very opportunistic species preying on juveniles (0+ and 1+ age classes) of several demersal fish species on the ARs. Reef prey and sea bass abundance were negatively correlated. The mean numbers of prey per sea bass stomach increased with the increase of reef fish prey abundance, suggesting that predation has a significant influence, resulting in a decrease in prey abundance. Prey mortality (4–48%) of demersal reef fish associated species depends on bass density. Prey selection was related both with prey abundance and vulnerability. Results showed that D. labrax predation on AR-fish associated species can increase prey natural mortality. However, the role of bass predation on the ecological functioning of exploited ARs is not clear. There may be increases in local fishing yields due either to an increase in predator biomass through aggregation of sea bass attracted to ARs or to greater production. In contrast, predation on juveniles of economically important reef fish preys, especially the most frequent and abundant (Boops boops), can contribute to a decrease in recruitment to the fishery. Our results indicate that inter-specific interactions (predator–prey) are important in terms of conservation and management, as well as for the evaluation of the long-term effects of reef deployment. Thus, it is necessary to consider ecological interactions, such as predation, prior to the development and deployment of artificial habitats as a tool for rehabilitation.

Communicated by S.D. Connell.