, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 245–272

Coexistence between the seastars Asterias vulgaris and A. forbesi in a heterogeneous environment: A non-equilibrium explanation

  • Bruce A. Menge

DOI: 10.1007/BF00377430

Cite this article as:
Menge, B.A. Oecologia (1979) 41: 245. doi:10.1007/BF00377430


The interaction between the sympatric, predaceous seastars, Asterias forbesi and A. vulgaris was studied for five years at eight study sites in northern New England. These species range in depth from the low intertidal to at least 50 m and cooccur over a broad geographic range from central Maine to Cape Hatteras. Both overlap greatly in times and intensity of feeding, body size, diet composition and size of prey consumed. Variations occur in these characteristics from site to site but are always positively correlated.

Such similarity along resource dimensions is generally taken to indicate that species compete for resources. In this study, interspecific competition does not seem to occur. Though these seastars are generally smaller than their potential size, and food seems in short supply in some subhabitats, food seems unlimited in other subhabitats. Hence, exploitation competition probably occurs sporadically, not chronically, and is probably a weak selective agent. Laboratory experiments suggest that neither intra- nor interspecific aggression occurs between these seastars. Hence, interference competition seems non-existent in this case.

Observations of massive mortality from disease and storms, large variations in seastar density, and a patchy food supply suggests that these populations are generally held below carrying capacity by a kaleidoscopic suite of selective agents. Under such conditions resource shortage would be unlikely to exert strong selective pressure. The high overlaps are thus most likely a reflection of the general absence of pressure to subdivide resources rather than an indication of severe competition.

In studies of competition, ecological overlaps should be supplemented by other evidence, including experiments before they can be used as indications of competitive pressure.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce A. Menge
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of ZoologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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