Influence of predation risk and food supply on nocturnal fish foraging distributionsalong a mangrove-seagrass ecotone

Neil Hammerschlag, Michael R. Heithaus, Joseph E. Serafy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Diverse taxa from many systems must make tradeoffs between food and safety. However,few studies have examined the response of multiple fish species to food and predation risk at night across their foraging landscape. In Biscayne Bay, Florida (USA), we investigated the influences of food and predation risk on nocturnal habitat use of gray snapper, bluestriped grunt and seabream along a distance gradient spanning from the mangrove-seagrass ecotone to 120 m offshore. Seine and submerged vegetation sampling were used to determine the distribution of fishes and their food resources. Tethering experiments were usedto explore gradients in predator encounter rates. We used these data to test the followinga priori predictions of fish distributions relative to food and risk as generated from foraging theory: (1) fishes will be distributed in proportion to their food supply (i.e.ideal free distribution, IFD); or (2) fishes will avoid high-risk areas such that their abundances will be lower than predicted by food resources in high-risk habitats (i.e. food-risk tradeoff). Results indicated that none of the fishes were distributed according to IFD. Seabream and gray snapper avoided foraging close to shore, where their food was abundant, but risk was highest. Bluestriped grunt responses to spatial variation in food supply and risk were less clear; they appeared to forage randomly across the distance gradient. Our results suggest that fish generally avoid the risky mangrove-seagrass ecotone, but responses to variation in food and risk are species-specific and may be dependent on specific anti-predator tactics or influenced by factors we did not measure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)223-235
Number of pages13
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - 2010


  • Edge effects
  • Grunt
  • Porgy
  • Predators
  • Proximity gradient
  • Shark
  • Snapper

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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