Predatory disturbance and prey species diversity: the case of gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) foraging on a multi-species mysid (family Mysidae) community
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Why competitive exclusion does not limit the number of coexisting plankton species is a persistent question for community ecology. One explanation, the intermediate disturbance hypothesis (IDH), proposes that elevated species diversity is a product of moderate levels of disturbance that allow the subsequent invasion of less competitive species. Here, we assess the shifts in species diversity in a mysid (Mysidae Dana, 1850) zooplankton community, where at least 10 species have, over the last 15 years, have come to comprise the primary prey base of summer resident gray whales (Eschrictius robustus Lilljeborg, 1861) in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia. We evaluate trends in the community structure of mysids (species dominance, diversity, and richness) across mysid habitat in the study area during the gray whale foraging season (May–September) for the period 1996 and 2008. Mysid species composition varies among years and diversity has increased as whales shifted their predatory focus from benthic amphipods (Ampeliscidae Costa, 1857) to mysids, near our starting point in 1996. Holmesimysis sculpta Tattersall, 1933 was the dominant species in early years; however, in 2007, the dominance shifted to Neomysis rayi Murdoch, 1885. The habitat restrictions and life history attributes of local populations of coastal mysids leave them vulnerable to the cumulative impacts of increased predation pressure by gray whales. This case study presents a unique examination implicating predation as an agent of disturbance capable of altering the species structure of a local prey community.