Article: Estuarine vegetated habitats as corridors for predator movements

Journal Article
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Conservation Biology
Micheli, F.; Peterson, C. H.
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The spatial proximity of one habitat to another can strongly influence population and community dynamics We investigated whether the proximity of intertidal oyster reefs to vegetated estuarine habitats, salt marshes, and seagrass beds, affects the abundance and community structure of benthic macroinvertebrates on reefs and predator-prey interactions between mobile predators and bivalves living on reefs. Benthic macroinvertebrate abundance was highest on reefs spatially separated from salt marshes. Macroinvertebrate species richness was highest on reefs separated from both salt marshes and seagrass beds. Comparisons of predation on juvenile bivalves transplanted to reefs for 7-12 days indicated that survivorship of clams was greatest on reefs spatially separated from both salt marshes and seagrass beds, whereas reef proximity to vegetated habitats dirt not affect the survivorship of oysters, The foraging behavior of blue crabs may explain patterns of macroinvertebrate abundance and clam survivorship among reefs with different proximity to vegetated habitats. In experiments conducted In 30-m(2) field enclosures, blue crabs had higher predation rates on hard clams transplanted onto artificial reefs adjacent to salt marshes or seagrass beds than on reefs separated from both habitats by unvegetated sand bottom. Thus, vegetated habitats appeared to act as corridors by facilitating the access of blue crabs to oyster reefs and enhancing the intensity of blue crab predation. Such an understanding of the effects of landscape characteristics of estuarine habitats on their value as habitats for estuarine organisms can be used to predict the consequences of habitat fragmentation on ecosystem function and to improve strategies for habitat and species conservation and restoration.

Oyster reefs provide many benefits to biological and human systems, including food, improved water quality, stabilized sediments, natural breakwaters, and novel habitat that otherwise would not exist; Modifying habitat cover can affect predator-prey dynamics by changing behaviors of predators resulting in mosaics of species density and biodiversity; Habitat heterogeneity facilitates movement across habitats and affects predator-prey dynamics.