Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Mississippi
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Coppola, G., L.E. Miranda, M. Colvin, H. Hatcher, M Lashley. 2021. Selection of habitat-enhancing plants depends on predator-prey interactions. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 12:294-307.


Shallow areas of drawdown reservoirs are often void of adequate fish habitat due to degradation associated with unnatural and relatively invariable cycles of exposure and flooding. One method of enhancing fish habitat in these areas is to sow exposed shorelines with agricultural plants to provide structure once flooded. It remains unclear if some plants may be more suitable than others to provide effective fish habitat. To determine the fish habitat potential of various crops we performed a replicated tank experiment evaluating the selection of agricultural plants by prey and predator fishes with and without the presence of the other. We submerged diverse treatments of potted plants in outdoor mesocosms stocked with prey and/or predator fish and monitored selection of plant species, stem density, and stem height over 0.5-h trials. Prey fish selected the densest vegetation and selection was accentuated when a predator was present. Predators selected the second highest stem density and were more active when prey were present. Prey schooling was increased by predation risk suggesting that cover was insufficient to outweigh the advantages of increased group size. Our data indicates that the perception of cover quality is reciprocally context-dependent on predator-prey interactions for both predator and prey. Applications of the two most selected plant treatments in this study could enhance structural habitat for both predator and prey fishes in reservoirs, adding to their already reliable functionality as supplemental forage crops for terrestrial wildlife.