, Volume 154, Issue 1, pp 167–173

Predator release of the gastropod Cyphoma gibbosum increases predation on gorgonian corals


    • Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology
    • Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale University
  • Mark E. Hay
    • Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Biology
Community Ecology

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-007-0801-4

Cite this article as:
Burkepile, D.E. & Hay, M.E. Oecologia (2007) 154: 167. doi:10.1007/s00442-007-0801-4


When large, predatory fishes and invertebrates were excluded from areas of a coral reef in the Florida Keys, USA, densities of the normally rare gastropod Cyphoma gibbosum, a principal predator of gorgonian corals, increased 19-fold. Gorgonians in predator exclosures were grazed more frequently and extensively by C. gibbosum than were gorgonians in uncaged areas. In exclosures, 14% of all gorgonians showed recent predation by C. gibbosum, with 62% of the entire colony surface being removed from these attacked individuals. In areas where predators of C. gibbosum were not excluded, only 5% of gorgonians exhibited recent damage, with only 26% of the colony surface being removed from these few damaged individuals. Thus, the increases in both frequency and extent of attack combined to produce an 8× increase in gorgonian damage following removal of large predators. These patterns suggest that predators typically suppress C. gibbosum populations, that overfishing of these predators could release C. gibbosum from top-down control, and that this release will allow increased damage to gorgonian corals.


Coral reefMesopredator releaseOverfishingTrophic cascade

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007