The relative importance of food and shelter for seagrass-associated invertebrates: a latitudinal comparison of habitat choice by isopod grazers
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- Boström, C. & Mattila, J. Oecologia (1999) 120: 162. doi:10.1007/s004420050845
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The generality of mechanisms affecting habitat choice and grazing in seagrass meadows was evaluated in a latitudinal comparison of seagrass grazers from the temperate (60°N) Baltic Sea and the subtropical (30°N) Gulf of Mexico. Using similar habitat choice experiment set-ups in Finland and the USA, the role of food type, habitat complexity and predation hazard on habitat choice of the isopods Idotea baltica (Pallas) and Erichsonella attenuata Harger were tested. When shelter was provided by both living and artificial seagrass, epiphytic food resources on artificial vegetation were clearly preferred by both species, although Idotea was attracted to epiphyte-free seagrass when no alternative food was present. When choosing between food and shelter, both species preferred epiphytic food over shelter. However, under predation hazard of fish, Erichsonella clearly switched to the habitat offering shelter, while the presence of a predatory fish produced no preference for shelter by Idotea. Food type may be considered as an universal mechanism that partly determines the presence of grazers in seagrass habitats and is, in the absence of a predator, more important than shelter. Predation risk affected the behaviour of the grazers, but the response varied between species possibly due to varying importance of fish predation in the areas studied.