Global patterns in the effects of predator declines on sea urchins
Sheppard-Brennand, H, Dworjanyn, SA & Poore, AGB in press, 'Global patterns in the effects of predator declines on sea urchins', Ecography.
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Latitudinal gradients in the strength of biotic interactions have long been proposed, but empirical evidence for the expectation of more intense predation, herbivory and competition at low latitudes has been mixed. Here, we use a meta-analysis to test the prediction that predation pressure on sea urchins, a group of consumers with a particularly strong influence on community structure in the world's oceans, is strongest in the tropics. We then examine which biotic and abiotic factors best correlate with biogeographic and within habitat patterns in sea urchin responses to predation. Consistent with expectations, predator impacts on sea urchins were highest in tropical coral reefs and decreased towards the poles in rocky reef habitats (> 25° absolute latitude). However, latitude and temperature were weakly correlated with effect sizes, and the strongest predictor of predator impacts was sea urchin species. This suggests an important role of prey identity (i.e. traits including behaviour, physical, and chemical defences) rather than large scale abiotic factors in determining variation in interaction strengths. Ecosystem-shaping sea urchins such as Tripneustes gratilla, Diadema savignyi and Centrostephanus rodgersii were strongly impacted by consumers, indicating a tight coupling between predators of these species and their boom and bust prey. Anthropogenic activities such as over-fishing, climate change and habitat destruction are causing rapid environmental change, and understanding how predation pressure varies with temperature, across habitats and among prey species, will aid in predicting the likelihood of ecosystem wide effects (via trophic cascades).