Tidal regime dictates the cascading consumptive and nonconsumptive effects of multiple predators on a marsh plant


  • Corresponding Editor: S. A. Navarrete.


Prey perception of predators can dictate how prey behaviorally balance the need to avoid being eaten with the need to consume resources, and this perception and consequent behavior can be strongly influenced by physical processes. Physical factors, however, can also alter the density and diversity of predators that pursue prey. Thus, it remains uncertain to what extent variable risk perception and antipredator behavior vs. variation in predator consumption of prey underlie prey–resource dynamics and give rise to large-scale patterns in natural systems. In an experimental food web where tidal inundation of marsh controls which predators access prey, crab and conch (predators) influenced the survivorship and antipredator behavior of snails (prey) irrespective of whether tidal inundation occurred on a diurnal or mixed semidiurnal schedule. Specifically, cues of either predator caused snails to ascend marsh leaves; snail survivorship was reduced more by unrestrained crabs than by unrestrained conchs; and snail survivorship was lowest with multiple predators than with any single predator despite interference. In contrast to these tidally consistent direct consumptive and nonconsumptive effects, indirect predator effects differed with tidal regime: snail grazing of marsh leaves in the presence of predators increased in the diurnal tide but decreased in the mixed semidiurnal tidal schedule, overwhelming the differences in snail density that resulted from direct predation. In addition, results suggest that snails may increase their foraging to compensate for stress-induced metabolic demand in the presence of predator cues. Patterns from natural marshes spanning a tidal inundation gradient (from diurnal to mixed semidiurnal tides) across 400 km of coastline were consistent with experimental results: despite minimal spatial variation in densities of predators, snails, abiotic stressors, and marsh productivity, snail grazing on marsh plants increased and plant biomass decreased on shorelines exposed to a diurnal tide. Because both the field and experimental results can be explained by tidal-induced variation in risk perception and snail behavior rather than by changes in snail density, this study reinforces the importance of nonconsumptive predator effects in complex natural systems and at large spatial scales.