The shifting balance of littoral predator-prey interaction in regimes of hydrodynamic stress
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- , & Oecologia (2001) 128: 142. doi:10.1007/s004420100638
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Above lowshore levels of wave-beaten rocky shores, desiccation from tidal exposure and hydrodynamics stresses from wave action are thought to create refuges from predation, allowing concentrations of sedentary prey such as mussel beds. Underwater time-lapse photography on rocky shores in Southern California revealed that dense aggregations of spiny lobsters prey on mussels during nocturnal high tides. In contradiction of the refuge hypothesis, the densest aggregations occurred on midshore levels of the most wave-exposed site, a semi-protected site showed intermediate densities, and a protected site showed only sparse numbers of lobsters. On wave-beaten shores, the lobsters' high mobility and rapid prey handling allowed them to exploit intertidal prey in the brief period at extreme high tide, when both desiccation and hydrodynamic stresses were at a minimum. The spatial differences in lobster densities were, however, positively related to the recruitment rates of juvenile mussels, the preferred prey. A field experiment demonstrated that predation by lobsters within a mussel bed affects the age/size structure of the bed without changing primary percent coverage. Therefore, concentrations of adult prey on some wave-swept sites appear to result from elevated rates of prey recruitment that surpass rates of predation, rather than absolute refuges from predation.