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Variability and stability in predation landscapes: A cross-ecosystem comparison on the potential for predator control in temperate marine ecosystems

  • Author(s): Oken, KL;
  • Essington, TE;
  • Fu, C
  • et al.

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Predation can play an important role in population, community and ecosystem processes. When predator guilds are diverse, fluctuations in individual predator populations may have small influences on the guild at large, suggesting that predator diversity stabilizes the amount of predation prey experience. The strength of this phenomenon depends on how synchronously populations within predator assemblages vary and whether all predators are equally important consumers. We utilized a database of biomasses of fish species across ten temperate marine ecosystems paired with diet composition and feeding rate information from mass-balance food web models to develop a predation index that weights the importance of predators on a prey based on predator feeding habits. Using the index, we asked how diverse sources of predation in these ecosystems are and how much diversity stabilizes variability in predation. Predator assemblages displayed a wide range of diversity; in one-third of assemblages, a single predator group accounted for over half of all predation. Abundances of predator populations within assemblages generally varied independently of one another (neither synchronously nor asynchronously), implying an intermediate stabilization on predation intensity by predator diversity. Accounting for interaction strength (versus mere presence) is critical for interpreting the predator landscape; doing so led to a wider range in predator assemblage diversity and less synchronous assemblages. This work challenges conventional notions that marine food webs are diverse and therefore less susceptible to predator control. Future work should consider the temporal variability of the predator assemblages and account for differences in mortality induced by each predator population.

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