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Predation Hot Spots: Large Scale Impact of Local Aggregations

Temming, Axel, Floeter, Jens, Ehrich, Siegfried
Ecosystems 2007 v.10 no.6 pp. 865-876
Gadus morhua, Merlangius merlangus, case studies, cod (fish), demersal fish, food webs, juveniles, models, mortality, piscivores, predation, predators, stomach, surveys, whiting, North Sea
Broad scale survey distributions of fish are dominated by some extremely high catches. With a novel survey design we resolved the small-scale fish distribution in the spatio-temporal vicinity of these extreme hauls and showed that in the North Sea they generally do not occur in isolation. An additional case study where stomach contents of fish predators were analyzed revealed that they actually indicate aggregations of piscivorous fish predators on prey aggregations. We show that the predation impact can reach immense dimensions, an aggregation of more than 50 million juvenile cod (Gadus morhua) was entirely wiped out in 5 days by predatory whiting (Merlangius merlangus), aggregating on these juveniles in an area of approximately 18 km². The consumption of only 32 hot spots of similar magnitude as observed in our study adds up to the average size of an incoming North Sea cod year class. These findings support the hypothesis of predation as the major source of mortality in young-of-the-year demersal fish species and questions the generality of fish aggregation as an effective anti-predator strategy. This study highlights the system-wide structuring force of small-scale predation hot spots and further points to the importance of a more realistic implementation of local high-intensity predation events in food web models.