For decades, marine ecologists have used cages as biological enclosure or exclosure devices to manipulate movement, growth, and survival of organisms. The ability to control the densities of focal organisms makes these structures a powerful tool. However, cages can often produce artifacts that influence the outcome of experiments. Although a subset of these artifacts have been examined previously, the effects of cages on water motion have not been adequately addressed from a quantitative standpoint, especially in high-flow environments. We targeted this data gap by explicitly measuring the fractional degree of velocity reduction inside a variety of experimental cage structures across flow conditions spanning those typical of wave-swept shallow subtidal and intertidal zones. Cages decreased velocities inside by up to 47% and reduced high-energy impact forces by more than 40%. Associated cage controls, employed to mimic physical effects of cages without interfering with organism movement, often had effects on water flow similar to those of cages. However, the nearly half an order of magnitude change in velocities inside cages and their controls reveals the need to be vigilant in considering potential artifacts, especially those tied to secondary biological interactions. These artifacts may be reduced by maximizing mesh size, employing large plot sizes and low profile structures, using cage controls that best mimic effects of the full cage, and monitoring cage controls to avoid the establishment of high-density “consumer hotels” within them. Using such approaches, researchers can minimize experimental biases and simplify the explanation of experimental results.
Luke P. Miller and Brian Gaylord. "Barriers to Flow: The Effects of Experimental Cage Structures on Water Velocities in High-energy Subtidal and Intertidal Environments" Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology (2007): 215-228.