The possibility that resource limits constrain the growth of mobile epifaunal populations associated with Sargassum patens plants was investigated by placing plants and associated animals into field microcosms which excluded fish predators, and then comparing faunal abundance and size-structure changes in different microcosm treatments with field populations. Four different micrososm treatments were set up: two treatments containing defaunated plants inoculated with caprellid amphipods, and two control treatments with natural faunas. The estimated secondary production of faunas enclosed in all microcosm treatments rapidly settled on a constant value (5 mg/day) which was similar to that determined in experiments conducted in Western Australia using the same microcosms but for faunas associated with a seagrass rather than a macroalga. These results support the hypothesis that the secondary production of epifaunal communities associated with macrophytes is constrained by quantifiable food resource ceilings. Predation by the most common fish species in the area, the wrasse Halichoeres tenuispinis, did not appear to alter macrofaunal production in the S. patens bed; however, it did greatly affect the faunal size-structure by eliminating most of the larger animals. The majority of epifaunal animals ≥ 2.0 mm sieve-size were consumed by H. tenuispinis, while negligible numbers of 0.5-mm sieve-size animals were captured. We postulate that food resource ceilings and predatory size-selectivity are widespread phenomena, affecting epifaunal populations at a variety of locations. Predation is predicted to generally increase rather than decrease faunal abundance because the consumption of each large invertebrate by a predator frees sufficient resources to feed several smaller individuals.
- Halichoeres tenuispinus
- Sargassum patens