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We manipulated predator densities and prey vulnerability to explore how interactions between two predators affect overall mortality of their shared prey. Our threemember study system included eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) and two of its major consumers: southern oyster drills (Stramonita haemastoma) and stone crabs (Menippe adina). Field experiments demonstrated that drills and crabs foraging together generated higher than expected oyster mortality based on each species operating independently, even though crabs also killed some drills. In subsequent laboratory trials, we experimentally mimicked the handling of oysters by foraging crabs and confirmed that crabs facilitated drills by breeching oyster valves, thereby granting easy access for drills to their prey. Facilitation between cooccurring predators is uncommon and typically occurs because the behavior or habitat selection of a prey species is altered by the presence of one predator, consequently making the prey more susceptible to another predator. Whereas oysters are sedentary regardless of the predator field, we observed an entirely different mechanism that resulted in predator facilitation. This involved direct attacks on the physical defenses of oysters by one predator that ultimately increased the overall consumption rate of foraging species. These dynamics significantly enhanced mortality risk for a foundation species within an estuarine ecosystem.

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Marine and Environmental Sciences


This article was published in the journal of Ecology by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of the Ecological Society of America.

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