Assessing the magnitude of intra- and interspecific competition in two coral reef fishes

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Many field experiments have tested for effects of competition in nature, but relatively few have used designs allowing simultaneous assessment of the influence of intra- and interspecific competition. Using a response surface design and a press manipulation of densities, we tested effects of competition within and between two species of coral reef fishes (Coryphopterus glaucofraneum and Gnatholepis thompsoni). By tracking individually tagged fishes, we showed that the per-capita effect of intraspecific competitors on individual growth was at least twice as great as the effect of interspecific competitors. Growth rate was better predicted by measures of density that incorporated body size, rather than numerical density, suggesting interference competition. Individuals of both species interacted aggressively with conspecifics at least twice as often as with heterospecifics. Individuals of both species also covered more area while foraging and spent less time in shelter when crowded than when at lower densities. In combination, these behaviours suggest that increased metabolic costs at high density contribute to competitive effects on growth. These competitive interactions occurred among adult fishes, so reduced growth may translate to reduced fecundity as well as reduced survival, and so contribute to population regulation. © Springer-Verlag 2006.

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