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Date of Original Version



Natural Resources Science


A negative relationship between population growth and population density (direct density dependence) is necessary for population regulation and is assumed in most models of harvested populations. Experimental tests for density dependence are lacking for large-bodied, harvested fish because of the difficulty of manipulating population density over large areas. We studied a harvested coral reef fish, Lutjanus apodus (schoolmaster snapper), using eight large, isolated natural reefs (0.4–1.6 ha) in the Bahamas as replicates. An initial observational test for density dependence was followed by a manipulation of population density. The manipulation weakened an association between density and shelter-providing habitat features and revealed a positive effect of population density on recruitment and survival (inverse density dependence), but no effect of density on somatic growth. The snappers on an individual reef were organized into a few shoals, and we hypothesize that large shoals on high-density reefs were less vulnerable to large piscivores (groupers and barracudas) than the small shoals on low-density reefs. Reductions in predation risk for individuals in large social groups are well documented, but because snapper shoals occupied reefs the size of small marine reserves, these ecological interactions may influence the outcome of management actions.

Publication Title

Ecological Applications