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Marine reserves have become increasingly valuable tools with which to manage ecosystems. These reserves consistently restore populations of top predators, often reducing availability of their favored prey. We hypothesized that such prey reduction in reserves causes protected predators to alter their attack behavior to include less palatable prey, potentially amplifying top-down effects on community structure. To test this hypothesis, we presented the relatively unpalatable sea hare Aplysia californica to freely foraging spiny lobsters Panulirus interruptus in 4 marine no-take reserves, each paired with an adjacent fished area. We found that lobsters only attacked sea hares inside reserves, where lobster density was significantly greater than that of the adjacent fished areas. Attacks on otherwise unpalatable prey exclusively in no-take reserves was likely caused by increased hunger, since in the laboratory only food-deprived lobsters attacked sea hares. These findings are the first to suggest that management involving no-take reserves may have unintended consequences on community structure that result from behavioral changes in key predators in the face of increased competition for food. We suspect that these effects may become more widely detected as reserves across the globe grow older and are researched further.


This article was originally published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, volume 522, in 2015.





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