Predicting the strength and context-dependency of species interactions across multiple scales is a core area in ecology. This is especially challenging in the marine environment, where populations of most predators and prey are generally open, because of their pelagic larval phase, and recruitment of both is highly variable. In this study we use a comparative-experimental approach on small and large spatial scales to test the relationship between predation intensity and prey recruitment and their relative importance in shaping populations of a dominant rocky intertidal space occupier, mussels, in the context of seascape (availability of nearby subtidal reef habitat). Predation intensity on transplanted mussels was tested inside and outside cages and recruitment was measured with standard larval settlement collectors. We found that on intertidal rocky benches with contiguous subtidal reefs in New Zealand, mussel larval recruitment is usually low but predation on recruits by subtidal consumers (fish, crabs) is intense during high tide. On nearby intertidal rocky benches with adjacent sandy subtidal habitats, larval recruitment is usually greater but subtidal predators are typically rare and predation is weaker. Multiple regression analysis showed that predation intensity accounts for most of the variability in the abundance of adult mussels compared to recruitment. This seascape-dependent, predation-recruitment relationship could scale up to explain regional community variability. We argue that community ecology models should include seascape context-dependency and its effects on recruitment and species interactions for better predictions of coastal community dynamics and structure.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)