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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available February 1, 2025
  2. Abstract

    A narrative in ecology is that prey modify traits to reduce predation risk, and the trait modification has costs large enough to cause ensuing demographic, trophic and ecosystem consequences, with implications for conservation, management and agriculture. But ecology has a long history of emphasising that quantifying the importance of an ecological process ultimately requires evidence linking a process to unmanipulated field patterns. We suspected that such process‐linked‐to‐pattern (PLP) studies were poorly represented in the predation risk literature, which conflicts with the confidence often given to the importance of risk effects. We reviewed 29 years of the ecological literature which revealed that there are well over 4000 articles on risk effects. Of those, 349 studies examined risk effects on prey fitness measures or abundance (i.e., non‐consumptive effects) of which only 26 were PLP studies, while 275 studies examined effects on other interacting species (i.e., trait‐mediated indirect effects) of which only 35 were PLP studies. PLP studies were narrowly focused taxonomically and included only three that examined unmanipulated patterns of prey abundance. Before concluding a widespread and influential role of predation‐risk effects, more attention must be given to linking the process of risk effects to unmanipulated patterns observed across diverse ecosystems.

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  3. Restoration of degraded estuarine oyster reefs typically involves deploying recycled oyster shell. In low‐salinity, low‐predation areas of estuaries, high‐volume shell deployments are known to improve flow conditions and thus oyster survival and growth. It is also hypothesized that the physical structure of restored reefs could suppress foraging by oyster predators in high‐salinity, high‐predation zones. That hypothesis is untested. Given limited resources, it is important to determine how much shell is needed for successful restoration and whether there are diminishing returns in shell addition. In Apalachicola Bay, Florida, we manipulated shell volume on an oyster reef to create three 0.4 ha areas of low (no shell addition), moderate (153 m3shell), and high (306 m3shell) habitat structure. We repeated experiments and surveys over 2 years to determine if restoration success increased with habitat structure. Predation on oysters was greater on the non‐shelled area than on the reshelled reefs, but similar between the two reshelled reefs. Oyster larval supply did not differ among the reef areas, but by the end of the experiment, oyster density (per unit area) increased quadratically with habitat structure, plateauing at high levels of structure. Model selection indicated that the most parsimonious explanation for these patterns was that increased habitat structure reduced predation and increased overall recruitment, but that the higher reshelling treatment did not have better outcomes than moderate reshelling. Thus, restoration could be optimized by deploying a moderate amount of shell per unit area.

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  4. Abstract

    The ability to predict how predators structure ecosystems has been shown to depend on identifying both consumptive effects (CEs) and nonconsumptive effects (NCEs) of predators on prey fitness. Prey populations may also be affected by interactions between multiple predators across life stages of the prey and by environmental factors such as disturbance. However, the intersection of these multiple drivers of prey dynamics has yet to be empirically evaluated. We addressed this knowledge gap using eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica), a species known to suffer NCEs, as the focal prey. Over 4 months, we manipulated orthogonally the life stage (none, juvenile, adult, or both) at which oysters experienced simulated predation (CE) and exposure to olfactory cues of a juvenile oyster predator (crab), adult predator (conch), sequentially the crab and then the conch, or none. We replicated this experiment at three sites along an environmental gradient in a Florida (USA) estuary. For both juvenile and adult oysters, survival was reduced solely by CEs, and variation in growth was best explained by among‐site variation in water flow, with a much smaller and negative effect of predator cue. Adults exposed to conch cue exhibited reduced growth (an NCE), but this effect was outweighed by a positive CE on growth: Surviving oysters grew faster at lower densities. Finally, conch cue reduced larval settlement (another NCE), but this was swamped by among‐site variation in larval supply. This research highlights how strong environmental gradients and predator CEs may outweigh the influence of NCEs, even in prey known to respond to predator cues. These findings serve as a cautionary tale for the importance of evaluating NCE processes over temporal scales and across environmental gradients relevant to prey demography.

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  5. Abstract

    When prey alter behavioral or morphological traits to reduce predation risk, they often incur fitness costs through reduced growth and reproduction as well as increased mortality that are known as nonconsumptive effects (NCEs). Environmental context and trophic structure can individually alter the strength of NCEs, yet the interactive influence of these contexts in natural settings is less understood. At six sites across 1000 km of the Southeastern Atlantic Bight (SAB), we constructed oyster reefs with one, two, or three trophic levels and evaluated the traits of focal juvenile oysters exposed to predation risk cues. We monitored environmental variables (water flow velocity, microalgal resources, and oyster larval recruitment) that may have altered how oysters respond to risk, and we also assessed the cost of trait changes to oyster mortality and growth when they were protected from direct predatory loss. Regardless of trophic structure, we found that oyster shell strength and natural oyster recruitment peaked at the center of the region. This high recruitment negated the potential for NCEs by smothering and killing the focal oysters. Also independent of trophic structure, focal oysters grew the most at the northernmost site. In contrast to, and perhaps because of, these strong environmental effects, the oyster traits of condition index and larval recruitment were only suppressed by the trophic treatment with a full complement of risk cues from intermediate and top predators at just the southernmost site. But at this same site, statistically significant NCEs on oyster growth and mortality were not detected. More strikingly, our study demonstrated environmental gradients that differentially influence oysters throughout the SAB. In particular, the results of our trophic manipulation experiment across these gradients suggest that in the absence of predation, environmental differences among sites may overwhelm the influence of NCEs on prey traits and population dynamics.

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