Sensory landscape impacts on odor-mediated predator-prey interactions at multiple spatial scales in salt marsh communities
Wilson, Miranda L.
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This collection of research examines how changes in the sensory landscape, mediated by both odor and hydrodynamic properties, impact odor-mediated predator-prey interactions in salt marsh communities. I approached this research using an interdisciplinary framework that combined field and laboratory experimentation to address issues of scale and make connections between predator behavior and patterns of predation in the field. I explored a variety of interactions mediated by changes in the sensory landscape including; indirect effects of biotic structure on associated prey, predator responses to patches of prey with differing density and distribution, and dynamic interactions between predators and prey distributions. I found that biotic structure (oyster reefs [Crassostrea virginica]) has negative indirect effects on associated hard clam prey (Mercenaria mercenaria) through the addition of oyster reef odor cues that attract predators (blue crabs [Callinectes sapidus] and knobbed whelks [Busycon carica])and increase foraging success near the structural matrix. Variation in the structure of patch-scale prey odor plumes created by multiple prey results in predator-specific patterns of predation as a function of patch density and distribution which are mediated by differences in predator sensory ability. There is a potential negative feedback loop between blue crab predators and hard clam prey distributions; clam patches assume random within-patch distributions after exposure to blue crab predators, making the detection of patches by future blue crab predators more difficult. Sensory landscapes are also mediated by water flow, which transports prey odor plumes downstream to predators. Characterization of water flow in small-scale estuary systems indicates that values of turbulent flow parameters are highly context specific and depend on both tidal type (spring, neap, normal) and site. Wind and tidal range seem to be good predictors for wave components and turbulent components of fluctuating flow parameters, respectively, although the strength of their predictive ability is dependent on time scale. Modifications of the sensory landscape through changes in structurally-induced turbulence, mixing of individual plumes from multiple prey, and bulk velocity and turbulence characteristics need to be considered when formulating predictions as to the impact of predators on naturally occurring prey populations in the field.