Differential vulnerability to predation in two sympatric whelks is mediated by juvenile traits

Authors

  • Sergio A. Carrasco,

    Corresponding author
    • School of Biological Sciences and Coastal Ecology Laboratory, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
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  • Nicole E. Phillips

    1. School of Biological Sciences and Coastal Ecology Laboratory, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
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Author for correspondence. E-mail: scarrasco.o@gmail.com

Abstract

In many taxa, initial differences in offspring size play an important role in mediating subsequent performance; however, the consequences of interspecific variation in size for the performance of co-occurring taxa have been rarely examined. We used the whelks Cominella virgata and C. maculosa, which co-occur on rocky shores throughout their life cycles, to examine the vulnerability of early life-stages to native predators under controlled laboratory conditions. Among all the predators evaluated (the cushion sea star Patiriella spp., the olive rockfish Acanthoclinus fuscus, the oyster borer snail Haustrum scobina, the smooth shore crab Cyclograpsus lavauxi, and the pebble crab Heterozius rotundifrons), hatchlings of both species (C. virgata: ~3 mm shell length [SL] and C. maculosa: ~1.5 mm SL) were especially vulnerable to the smooth shore crab Cy. lavauxi, the only potential predator in which mortality was greater than in the control treatment. Small shore crabs (~8 mm carapace width [CW]) were unable to eat hatchlings of either whelk species, whereas medium and large shore crabs (~12 and ~18 mm CW, respectively) consumed hatchlings of both prey species. Hatchlings of C. virgata were less vulnerable to predation by medium crabs than large ones, and those of C. maculosa were equally vulnerable to both sizes of crabs. In hatchlings of both prey species, shell length and shell thickness increased over time. Two months after hatching, only individuals of C. virgata had reached a size refuge from predation. Our results show that interspecific vulnerability to predators can be mitigated by larger sizes and thicker shells at hatching; nonetheless, our results also suggest that other species-specific factors, such as juvenile growth rate, may also play key roles in determining the vulnerability of hatchling and juvenile snails to shell-crushing predators.

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