, Volume 23, Issue 1 Supplement, pp 75-89
Date: 01 Sep 2007

Using an individual-based model to examine the roles of habitat fragmentation and behavior on predator–prey relationships in seagrass landscapes

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Abstract

Seagrasses, which form critical subtidal habitats for marine organisms worldwide, are fragmented via natural processes but are increasingly being fragmented and degraded by boating, fishing, and coastal development. We constructed an individual-based model to test how habitat fragmentation and loss influenced predator–prey interactions and cohort size for a group of settling juvenile blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus Rathbun) in seagrass landscapes. Using results from field studies suggesting that strong top-down processes influence the relationship between cannibalistic blue crab populations and seagrass landscape structure, we constructed a model in which prey (juvenile blue crabs) are eaten by mesopredators (larger blue crabs) which in turn are eaten by top-level predators (e.g., large fishes). In our model, we varied the following parameters within four increasingly fragmented seagrass landscapes to test for their relative effects on cohort size: juvenile blue crab (prey) predator avoidance response, hunting ability of mesopredators and predators, the presence of a top-level predator, and prey settlement routines. Generally, prey cohort size was maximized in the presence of top-level predators and when mesopredators and predators exhibited random searching behavior vs. directed hunting. Cohort size for stationary (tethered) prey was maximized in fragmented landscapes, which corresponds to results from field experiments, whereas mobile prey able to detect and avoid predators had higher survival in continuous landscapes. Prey settlement patterns had relatively small influences on cohort size. We conclude that the effects of seagrass fragmentation and loss on organisms such as blue crabs will depend heavily on behaviors of prey and predatory organisms and how these behaviors change with landscape structure.