Trophic role of the mesopredatory three-spined stickleback in habitats of varying complexity

Karine Gagnon, Max Gräfnings, Christoffer Boström

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
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Mesopredators must contend with both top-down (predation pressure by top predators) and bottom-up (foodavailability) drivers when selecting habitat. We studied the distribution and trophic dynamics of an abundantmesopredator (the three-spined stickleback; Gasterosteus aculeatus) in three habitats of differing complexity: amacroalgal bed (Fucus vesiculosus), a seagrass meadow (Zostera marina), and a sand flat. We found that stick-leback abundance and food availability were highest in the macroalgae, intermediate in the seagrass, and verylow in the sand flat. We then tested in situ predation pressure on isopods and amphipods by tethering live prey inthe three habitats. Predation on amphipods was very high in early summer, when it was highest in the sand flat,intermediate in the seagrass, and lowest in the macroalgae. However, small-scale within-habitat differences inphysical complexity (shoot density) or location (interior vs. edge) did not affect predation rates. Predation rateson amphipods decreased with prey size, but predation on isopods was always low. Laboratory experiments usingamphipod prey and stickleback predators supported the patterns observed in the field, where predation successwas highest in the sand and lowest in the Fucus. Overall, sticklebacks were more abundant in, and preferentiallychose, the two habitats with highest structural complexity (the macroalgae bed and seagrass meadow), poten-tially trading off low predation success for higher food availability and increased shelter from top predators.These results confirm the critical importance of these structured habitats for coastal trophic networks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46–53
JournalJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Zostera marina
  • Fucus vesiculosus
  • Habitat choice
  • threespine stickleback
  • predation


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