Coral Reefs

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 19–22 | Cite as

The predation gauntlet: early post-settlement mortality in reef fishes



Most marine fishes have pelagic larvae that settle to benthic juvenile/adult habitats. Ecologists have argued that mortality rates are particularly high during the settlement transition, but relevant data have been sparse. Recently, researchers have used several novel techniques to estimate the magnitude of predation mortality during the settlement transition. We used meta-analysis to determine that for 24 taxonomically diverse species in geographically widespread locations, an estimated 55.7% (CI: 43.0–65.5%) of juveniles were consumed within 1–2 days of settlement. Such high mortality highlights this brief period as a key phase in the life history of fishes and supports the view that these communities are strongly influenced by predation. Additionally, we argue that because predators have such strong effects on juvenile survival, the population and community dynamics of reef fishes may be linked to human exploitation of reef predators.


Meta-analysis Predation Recruitment Reef fish Settlement 



We thank Tess Freidenburg, Mark Hixon, Jeff Leis, and Karen Overholtzer-McLeod for discussion of these topics and manuscript reviews. For allowing us access to their data, we thank Peter Doherty, Vincent Dufour, Graham Forrester, Rene Galzin, Mark Hixon, Gilles Lecaillon, Serge Planes and Mark Steele. Financial support was provided by NSF Graduate Doctoral Fellowships (GRA and MSW), an NSF International Research Fellowship and Fulbright Postgraduate Award (GRA), and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation (MSW).


  1. Almany GR (2003) Priority effects in coral reef fish communities. Ecology 84:1920–1935CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almany GR (2004) Priority effects in coral reef fish communities of the Great Barrier Reef. Ecology 85:2872–2880CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Almany GR, Webster MS (2004) Odd species out as predators reduce diversity of coral-reef fishes. Ecology 85:2933–2937CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arnold SJ, Wassersug RJ (1978) Differential predation on metamorphic anurans by garter snakes (Thamnophis): social behavior as a possible defense. Ecology 59:1014–1022CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Caley MJ (1998) Age-specific mortality rates in reef fishes: evidence and implications. Aust J Ecol 23:241–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Doherty PJ, Dufour V, Galzin R, Hixon MA, Planes S (2004) High mortality during settlement is a population bottleneck for a tropical surgeonfish. Ecology 85:2422–2428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gaines SD, Roughgarden J (1987) Fish in offshore kelp forests affect recruitment to intertidal barnacle populations. Science 235:479–481PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gosselin LA, Qian P-Y (1996) Early post-settlement mortality of an intertidal barnacle: a critical period for survival. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 135:69–75CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gurevitch J, Hedges LV (1999) Statistical issues in ecological meta-analysis. Ecology 80:1142–1149Google Scholar
  10. Hedges LV, Gurevitch J, Curtis PS (1999) The meta-analysis of response ratios in experimental ecology. Ecology 80:1150–1156Google Scholar
  11. Hixon MA (1991) Predation as a process structuring coral reef fish communities. In: Sale PF (ed) The ecology of fishes on coral reefs. Academic, San Diego, pp 475–508Google Scholar
  12. Holbrook SJ, Schmitt RJ (2003) Spatial and temporal variation in mortality of newly settled damselfish: patterns, causes and co-variation with settlement. Oecologia 135:532–541PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Hunt HL, Sheibling RE (1997) Role of early post-settlement mortality in recruitment of benthic marine invertebrates. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 155:269–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Keough MJ, Downes BJ (1982) Recruitment of marine invertebrates: the role of active larval choices and early mortality. Oecologia 54:348–352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Leis JM, McCormick MI (2002) The biology, behaviour and ecology of the pelagic, larval stage of coral-reef fishes. In: Sale PF (ed) Coral reef fishes: dynamics and diversity in a complex ecosystem. Academic, San Diego pp 171–199Google Scholar
  16. O’Donoghue M (1994) Early survival of juvenile snowshoe hares. Ecology 75:1582–1592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Planes S, Lecaillon G (2001) Caging experiment to examine mortality during metamorphosis of coral reef fish larvae. Coral Reefs 20:211–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Qian P-Y, Chia F-S (1994) In situ measurement of recruitment, mortality, growth, and fecundity of Capitella sp. (Annelida: Polychaeta). Mar Ecol Prog Ser 111:53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Rosenberg MS, Adams DC, Gurevitch J (2000) MetaWin: statistical software for meta-analysis. Sinauer Associates, SunderlandGoogle Scholar
  20. Steele MA, Forrester GE (2002) Early postsettlement predation on three reef fishes: effects on spatial patterns of recruitment. Ecology 83:1076–1091CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Thorson G (1950) Reproductive and larval ecology of marine bottom invertebrates. Biol Rev 25:513–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Webster MS (2002) Role of predators in the early post-settlement demography of coral-reef fishes. Oecologia 131:52–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Marine Biology and AquacultureJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyOregon State UniversityOregonUSA
  3. 3.Gordon and Betty Moore FoundationCaliforniaUSA

Personalised recommendations