Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Does rapid scavenging hide non-predation mortality in coral-reef communities?

Andrew Rassweiler A C D and Thomas Rassweiler B C

A Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.

B 1160 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10023, USA.

C Both authors contributed equally to this work.

D Corresponding author. Email: rassweil@lifesci.ucsb.edu

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(5) 510-515 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/MF10194
Submitted: 17 July 2010  Accepted: 17 December 2010   Published: 25 May 2011

Abstract

Predation is assumed to be a principal cause of adult fish mortality on coral reefs, and therefore a main pathway by which biomass is passed to higher trophic levels. However, the strength of predation has mostly been demonstrated on juvenile fish, and even with juveniles, when predators are excluded, substantial mortality still occurs. Mortality from causes other than predation is rarely considered, because carrion is not common on coral reefs, but the strength of this inference depends crucially on the rate of scavenging. We tested the hypothesis that removal of carrion through scavenging may be very rapid by placing undamaged fish carcasses of a range of species and sizes on reefs in Curaçao, monitoring their rate of disappearance. All carrion was consumed within 24 h and at such rapid rates that, if non-predation mortality were occurring, it would leave little evidence on the reef. Carcasses were consumed almost exclusively by fish, mainly reef-associated piscivores, indicating that scavenged biomass is tightly recycled within the reef fish community. The results of this study suggest that more attention should be paid to quantifying the role of non-predation sources of fish mortality in reef ecosystems.

Additional keywords: Caribbean, community ecology, marine.


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