, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 383-397

Associations between the abundance of piscivorous fishes and their prey on coral reefs: implications for prey-fish mortality

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Few studies have examined predator-prey relationships in diverse communities such as those found on coral reefs. Here we examined patterns of spatial and temporal association between the local abundance of predator and prey fishes at Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. We predicted that the nature of this association would have implications for patterns of prey-fish mortality. Strong positive relationships between prey and piscivore abundance were found throughout the study. Greater densities of predators and of prey were found on patch-reef habitats, compared with contiguous reef-slope habitats. Declines in prey-fish abundance on patch reefs were density-dependent and correlated with the densities of predators. The relative roles of recruitment and piscivore movement in determining patterns of predator and prey abundance were assessed from surveys of recruit densities and an intensive programme of tagging two species of rock-cod, Cephalopholis cyanostigma and C. boenak (Serranidae), over 2 years. Patterns of recruitment explained little of the variation in the abundance and distribution of piscivorous fish. If movement explains large-scale patterns of distribution, this was not evident from the tagging study. The two rock-cod species were highly sedentary, with individuals on patch reefs seldom moving among reefs. Individuals on reef slopes were also highly site-attached, although they moved greater distances than those on patch reefs. Although the mechanisms responsible remain to be determined, this study demonstrated strong associations between the abundance of piscivorous fish and their prey on coral reefs. This relationship appeared to be an important factor in producing density-dependent declines in the abundance of prey.

Received: 30 April 2000 / Accepted: 22 September 2000