Assessing the effects of large mobile predators on ecosystem connectivity

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Abstract

Large predators are often highly mobile and can traverse and use multiple habitats. We know surprisingly little about how predator mobility determines important processes of ecosystem connectivity. Here we used a variety of data sources drawn from Palmyra Atoll, a remote tropical marine ecosystem where large predators remain in high abundance, to investigate how these animals foster connectivity. Our results indicate that three of Palmyra's most abundant large predators (e.g., two reef sharks and one snapper) use resources from different habitats creating important linkages across ecosystems. Observations of cross-system foraging such as this have important implications for the understanding of ecosystem functioning, the management of large-predator populations, and the design of conservation measures intended to protect whole ecosystems. In the face of widespread declines of large, mobile predators, it is important that resource managers, policy makers, and ecologists work to understand how these predators create connectivity and to determine the impact that their depletions may be having on the integrity of these linkages.

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