Resource distribution influences positive edge effects in a seagrass fish
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According to conceptual models, the distribution of resources plays a critical role in determining how organisms distribute themselves near habitat edges. These models are frequently used to achieve a mechanistic understanding of edge effects, but because they are based predominantly on correlative studies, there is need for a demonstration of causality, which is best done through experimentation. Using artificial seagrass habitat as an experimental system, we determined a likely mechanism underpinning edge effects in a seagrass fish. To test for edge effects, we measured fish abundance at edges (0-0.5 m) and interiors (0.5-1 m) of two patch configurations: continuous (single, continuous 9-m2 patches) and patchy (four discrete 1-m2 patches within a 9-m2 area). In continuous configurations, pipefish (Stigmatopora argus) were three times more abundant at edges than interiors (positive edge effect), but in patchy configurations there was no difference. The lack of edge effect in patchy configurations might be because patchy seagrass consisted entirely of edge habitat. We then used two approaches to test whether observed edge effects in continuous configurations were caused by increased availability of food at edges. First, we estimated the abundance of the major prey of pipefish, small crustaceans, across continuous seagrass configurations. Crustacean abundances were highest at seagrass edges, where they were 16% greater than in patch interiors. Second, we supplemented interiors of continuous treatment patches with live crustaceans, while control patches were supplemented with seawater. After five hours of supplementation, numbers of pipefish were similar between edges and interiors of treatment patches, while the strong edge effects were maintained in controls. This indicated that fish were moving from patch edges to interiors in response to food supplementation. These approaches strongly suggest that a numerically dominant fish species is more abundant at seagrass edges due to greater food availability, and provide experimental support for the resource distribution model as an explanation for edge effects.
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Ecology not elsewhere classified