Seascape-dependent subtidal-intertidal trophic linkages

Gil Rilov, David R. Schiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study, we test in southern New Zealand a conceptual model of food web linkage that is seascape dependent, which can explain some of the variability in rocky shore community structure among sites and coasts. Using a comparative-experimental approach at local and distant sites we demonstrate that mobile subtidal predators (fish and crabs) can exert strong predation pressure on small mussels in the low tidal zone, but only in sites where the seascape includes subtidal reefs. On intertidal benches with adjacent subtidal reefs (1SR), 60-100% of small (5-15 mm) transplanted mussels were removed within a day from experimental tiles on the low shore when unprotected from predation, compared to fully caged controls that had approximately 100% survival over several months. In partial cages that exclude fish but not crabs, survivorship was intermediate. In contrast, on benches without subtidal reefs (2SR) 40-100% of mussels survived for months, even if unprotected. This difference is expressed in lower cover (0-60%) of mussels on rocks at 1SR benches compared to 2SR benches (70-99%). The central to northern west coast of the South Island is composed mostly of 2SR benches, and predation on small mussels there was low and similar to the 2SR benches on the east coast, whereas the 1SR benches on the east coast had much greater predation. This contrasts to other studies in New Zealand that examined only predation on larger mussels by seastars and concluded that predation is strong on the west coast and weak on the east coast. Excluding large predators from low-shore areas with new recruits for a year in one 1SR site showed longer-term predation effects on their abundance and cover. Short-term sampling at the east coast sites showed that mussel settlement was greater in 2SR compared to 1SR sites, providing some evidence that seascapes may also affect settlement. Overall, predation depended on the local seascape and ultimately affected community structure via suppression of effective recruitment rates. This study emphasizes the importance of predation on early life stages of basal species and the influence of seascapes on top-down interactions between subtidal predators and their intertidal prey.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-744
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Crabs
  • Fish
  • Intertidal bench
  • Mussels
  • New Zealand
  • Predation
  • Rocky shore
  • Settlement
  • Subtidal reef

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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