Association behavior between sand tiger sharks and round scad is driven by mesopredators

Published on
08. April 2021

Association behavior between sand tiger sharks and round scad is driven by mesopredators

Nicholas C. Coleman​, Erin J. Burge​​


In marine systems, behaviorally-mediated indirect interactions between prey, mesopredators, and higher trophic-level, large predators are less commonly investigated than other ecologic interactions, likely because of inherent difficulties associated with making observations. Underwater videos (n = 216) from SharkCam, a camera installation sited beneath Frying Pan Tower, a decommissioned light house and platform, on a natural, hard bottom site approximately 50 km off Cape Fear, North Carolina, were used to investigate association behavior of round scad Decapterus punctatus around sand tiger sharks Carcharias taurus. Videos containing sand tiger sharks were analyzed for the simultaneous presence of round scad, and six species of scad mesopredators, with scad-shark interactions assigned to one of three categories of association: no visible interaction, loosely associated, or tightly associated. The likelihood of scad being loosely or tightly associated with sharks was significantly higher in the presence of scad mesopredators, suggesting that sharks provide a predation refuge for scad. This behaviorally-mediated indirect interaction has important implications for trophic energy transfer and mesopredator control on hard bottoms, as scad are one of the most abundant planktivorous fish on hard bottoms in the western Atlantic Ocean. Although we were not able to provide statistical evidence that sand tiger sharks also benefit from this association behavior, we have clear video evidence that round scad association conceals and attracts mesopredators, enhancing predation opportunities for sand tiger sharks. These interactions potentially yield additional trophic consequences to this unique association and highlight the value of exploring behaviorally-mediated interactions in marine communities.

PeerJ 9:e11164, DOI: 10.7717/peerj.11164


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