Factors affecting the dynamics and regulation of coral-reef fish populations Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/ws859j21m

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  • Ecologists have long questioned why fluctuating populations tend to persist rather than go extinct. Populations that persist indefinitely are regulated by mechanisms that cause demographic density dependence, which works to bound fluctuation above zero. In a series of studies, I have sought to determine the processes and mechanisms that regulate local populations of coral-reef fish. In the Exuma Keys, Bahamas, fairy basslets (Gramma loreto) live in aggregations on the undersides of coral-reef ledges. These aggregations often constitute local populations because movement between aggregations is rare. The largest individuals occupy prime feeding positions near the front of ledges and force smaller individuals remain near the back where they have lower feeding rates. Based on these initial observations, I designed two experimental studies of the demographic consequences of variation in basslet density. In the first study, I manipulated the density of newly-settled fish to explore the effects of high recruitment on population size. Populations with experimentally elevated recruitment converged in density with unmanipulated populations, primarily due to density-dependent mortality. I found no evidence that density dependence was caused by intraspecific competition; rather it appeared to be due to a short-term behavioral response by predators (aggregative and/or type 3 functional response). In a second study, I manipulated the densities of adults among populations with a standard average density of newly-settled fish. Two measures indicated that the intensity of competition increased at higher densities of adults, which likely made small fish more susceptible to predation, thereby causing density-dependent mortality. Long-term observations indicated that basslet populations were regulated at temporal scales exceeding two generations. At Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef, I also examined how patterns of recruitment of coral-reef fishes were modified across a range of natural recruit densities in the presence and absence of resident predators. Predators decreased recruitment and increased mortality for all species, but these effects varied considerably among species. The results of each of these studies stress the importance of both competitive and predatory mechanisms in modifying patterns of abundance established at the time of larval settlement, as well as regulating local population size.
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