Regional variation in the intensity of fish predation on tethered brittle stars and crabs was measured at 30–33 m depths in the rocky subtidal zone at seven sites representing coastal and offshore regions of the Gulf of Maine, USA. Analysis of covariance comparing the slopes of brittle star survivorship curves followed by multiple comparisons tests revealed five groupings of sites, with significantly greater predation rates in the two offshore than in the three coastal groups. Brittle stars tethered at the three offshore sites were consumed primarily by cod, Gadus morhua , with 60–100% prey mortality occuring in 2.5 h. In striking contrast, only 6–28% of brittle star prey was consumed in the same amount of time at the four coastal sites, which were dominated by cunner, Tautogolabrus adspersus . In several coastal trials, a majority of brittle star prey remained after 24 h. The pattern of higher predation offshore held for rock crabs as well with only 2.7% of tethered crabs consumed ( n =36) at coastal sites versus 57.8% of crabs ( n =64) consumed at offshore sites. Another important predatory fish, the wolffish, Anarhichas lupus , consumed more tethered crabs than brittle stars. Videos and time-lapse movies indicated that cod and wolffish were significantly more abundant at offshore than at coastal sites. Three hundred years of fishing pressure in New England has severely depleted stocks of at least one important benthic predator, the cod, in coastal waters. We speculate that this human-induced predator removal has lowered predation pressure on crabs and other large mobile epibenthos in deep coastal communities. Transect data indicate that coastal sites with few cod support significantly higher densities of crabs than offshore sites with abundant cod.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 1, 1992
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