Musical chairs: density-dependent mortality caused by competition for unguarded refuges

Structural refuges within which prey can escape from predators can be an important limiting resource for the prey. In a manner that resembles the childhood game of musical chairs, many prey species rapidly retreat to shared, unguarded refuges whenever a predator threatens, and only when refuges are relatively abundant do all prey individuals actually escape. The key feature of this process is that the per capita prey mortality rate depends on the ratio of prey individuals to refuges. We introduce a new class of mortality functions with this feature and then demonstrate statistically that they describe field mortality data from a well-studied coral reef fish species, the Caribbean bridled goby Coryphopterus glaucofraenum, substantially better than do several mortality functions of more conventional form.