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Keywords:

  • Cephalopholis fulva;
  • coral reef fish;
  • density dependence;
  • habitat complexity;
  • inverse density dependence;
  • metacommunity;
  • metapopulation;
  • predation;
  • recruitment;
  • Thalassoma bifasciatum

Abstract

Patterns of predator dispersal can be critical to the dynamics of prey metapopulations. In marine systems, oceanic currents may shape the dispersal of planktonic larvae of both predators and prey, producing spatial correlations in the recruitment of both species and distinctive geographic patterns of prey mortality. I examined the potential for this phenomenon in two fishes, a wrasse and its grouper predator, at a Caribbean island where the near-shore oceanographic regime produces a temporally consistent spatial pattern of fish recruitment. I found that recruitment and adult abundance of groupers were spatially correlated with recruitment of wrasse prey. Furthermore, the local abundance of predators strongly affected the nature of density-dependent prey mortality. At sites with few predators, wrasse mortality was inversely density-dependent, while mortality was positively density-dependent at sites with higher predator densities. This phenomenon could be important to the dynamics of any metacommunity in which physical forces produce correlated dispersal.