Large marine predators often aggregate seasonally in discrete locations to take advantage of optimal foraging conditions, leading to spatial and temporal variation in their exposure on other species. However, our understanding of the impacts this exposure may have on the behavior and physiology of prey is poor, especially in marine systems. Here, we evaluated the non-consumptive effects of potential exposure to large sharks (white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias (Linnaeus, 1758)) on the stress physiology of an economically important teleost, the striped bass (Morone saxatilis (Walbaum, 1792)), off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, USA. We sampled fish in habitats that varied significantly in shark exposure across 5 months and over 2 years, evaluating blood physiology stress indicators (i.e., cortisol, glucose, and lactate concentrations) and reflex impairment. None of the blood parameters were influenced by shark exposure, although we did observe subtle temperature and seasonal effects. One of the three reflex tests (the vertical orientation test) was negatively affected by shark exposure, although the mechanistic basis for this finding is unclear. This work supports the notion that predictable sources of predation pressure tend not to manifest in stress-related costs in free-ranging prey, which has implications for shaping our understanding of how large sharks influence ecosystems through non-consumptive effects.

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Canadian Journal of Zoology
Department of Biology

Benson, C.W. (C. W.), Shea, B.D. (B. D.), de Silva, C. (C.), Donovan, D. (D.), Holder, P.E. (P. E.), Cooke, S.J, & Gallagher, A.J. (A. J.). (2019). Physiological consequences of varying large shark exposure on striped bass (Morone saxatilis). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 97(12), 1195–1202. doi:10.1139/cjz-2019-0173