Plankton tethering to assess spatial patterns of predation risk over a coral reef and seagrass bed
Bullard, Stephan G.
Hay, Mark E.
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Difficulties associated with manipulating plankton in situ have limited the ability of investigators to assess among-habitat variation in predation risk for plankton. We used plankton tethering units (PTUs) to tether zooplankton in a variety of reef and seagrass habitats, and used field and laboratory assays to test PTUs for tethering artifacts. Tethering did not affect the survivorship of 5 species of plankton (sizes <1 to 6 mm), indicating that the method works with a range of planktonic organisms. We then used the reef mysid Mysidium columbiae in additional assays and found that: (1) mysids remained on PTUs unless they were attacked by predators; (2) PTUs did not prevent planktivorous fishes from consuming tethered mysids; (3) untethered mysids commonly evaded predators, while mysids on PTUs did not; (4) the same types of predators consumed untethered and tethered mysids in the field; and (5) fishes were neither attracted to nor repelled from PTUs. We used PTUs and mysids to assess predation risk for plankton over various coral reef or seagrass habitats. Risk of attack varied among habitats and was correlated with abundance of planktivorous fishes. On the reef, attack rates were most intense over a topographically complex reef ledge, less intense over the less structurally complex center of the reef, and least intense over a structurally simple sand plain. Within the seagrass bed, attack rates were highest at the edge of the bed and less intense to the center of the seagrass bed and over an adjacent sand plain. Thus, attack rates at these sites varied tremendously over small spatial scales (meters).