Field evidence for pervasive indirect effects of fishing on prey foraging behavior

Elizabeth M P Madin, Steven D. Gaines, Robert R. Warner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    111 Citations (Scopus)


    The indirect, ecosystem-level consequences of ocean fishing, and particularly the mechanisms driving them, are poorly understood. Most studies focus on density-mediated trophic cascades, where removal of predators alternately causes increases and decreases in abundances of lower trophic levels. However, cascades could also be driven by where and when prey forage rather than solely by prey abundance. Over a large gradient of fishing intensity in the central Pacific's remote northern Line Islands, including a nearly pristine, baseline coral reef system, we found that changes in predation risk elicit strong behavioral responses in foraging patterns across multiple prey fish species. These responses were observed as a function of both short-term ("acute") risk and longer-term ("chronic") risk, as well as when prey were exposed to model predators to isolate the effect of perceived predation risk from other potentially confounding factors. Compared to numerical prey responses, antipredator behavioral responses such as these can potentially have far greater net impacts (by occurring over entire assemblages) and operate over shorter temporal scales (with potentially instantaneous response times) in transmitting top-down effects. A rich body of literature exists on both the direct effects of human removal of predators from ecosystems and predators' effects on prey behavior. Our results draw together these lines of research and provide the first empirical evidence that large-scale human removal of predators from a natural ecosystem indirectly alters prey behavior. These behavioral changes may, in turn, drive previously unsuspected alterations in reef food webs.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3563-3571
    Number of pages9
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


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