Do behavioral foraging responses of prey to predators function similarly in restored and pristine foodwebs?

Elizabeth M P Madin, Steven D. Gaines, Joshua S. Madin, Anne Katrin Link, Peggy J. Lubchenco, Rebecca L. Selden, Robert R. Warner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Efforts to restore top predators in human-altered systems raise the question of whether rebounds in predator populations are sufficient to restore pristine foodweb dynamics. Ocean ecosystems provide an ideal system to test this question. Removal of fishing in marine reserves often reverses declines in predator densities and size. However, whether this leads to restoration of key functional characteristics of foodwebs, especially prey foraging behavior, is unclear. The question of whether restored and pristine foodwebs function similarly is nonetheless critically important for management and restoration efforts. We explored this question in light of one important determinant of ecosystem function and structure - herbivorous prey foraging behavior. We compared these responses for two functionally distinct herbivorous prey fishes (the damselfish Plectroglyphidodon dickii and the parrotfish Chlorurus sordidus) within pairs of coral reefs in pristine and restored ecosystems in two regions of these species' biogeographic ranges, allowing us to quantify the magnitude and temporal scale of this key ecosystem variable's recovery. We demonstrate that restoration of top predator abundances also restored prey foraging excursion behaviors to a condition closely resembling those of a pristine ecosystem. Increased understanding of behavioral aspects of ecosystem change will greatly improve our ability to predict the cascading consequences of conservation tools aimed at ecological restoration, such as marine reserves.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere32390
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2012


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