, Volume 99, Issue 2, pp 235-246

Population structure and energetics of the shallow-water antarctic sea star Odontaster validus in contrasting habitats

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Abstract

Individuals and populations of Odontaster validus Koehler differed markedly among different habitats, as revealed in a study from October 1984 through January 1986 in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. At McMurdo Station, individual sizes (wet weight) and population biomass (g wet wt m-2 and kJ m-2) decreased significantly with increasing depth. Individuals from shallow (10 to 20 m) habitats were in superior nutritional condition to those from deeper water (30 and 165 m), as shown by higher gonad and pyloric cecum indexes, and by higher lipid and energetic levels in the pyloric ceca. Moreover, gonadal output (reproductive output) was higher in shallow-water individuals. Higher levels of chlorophyll in the pyloric ceca and richer yellow to red coloration of the body wall in the shallow-water individuals indicate that they utilize the higher levels of primary production at shallow depths. At East Cape Armitage, where nearly permanent, thick, snow-covered ice most of the year resulted in very low levels of benthic primary production, the lowdensity sea stars were all very small and nutritionally similar to the deep-water individuals at McMurdo Station. At Cape Evans, where the generally snow-free sea-ice that broke up in mid-summer resulted in a luxurient benthic cover of diatoms and macroalgae, the sea stars were smaller than at McMurdo Station at comparable depths, but population densities were higher, resulting in 4 to 9 times greater biomass. Growth rates of sea stars fed in the laboratory were very low, especially compared to laboratory-reared temperate and tropical species; well-fed individuals need about 9 yr to reach 30 g wet weight, near the mean size of shallowwater individuals at McMurdo Station. No growth was detected in individuals caged at McMurdo Station for one year, suggesting even lower growth rates in the field. The stable size-frequency distributions at the different sites and depths throughout the year-long study suggest highly stable populations with low temporal variability in recruitment, migration and mortality. These data indicate that individuals and populations of O. validus quantitatively and qualitatively reflect the general level of productivity of a habitat. Differences noted in size, coloration, nutrition, and reproductive effort may be the result of long-term integration of local levels of primary production. These ubiquitous sea stars may serve as a biotic indicator of productivity in localized habitats around the continental shelf of Antarctica.

Communicated by J. M. Lawrence, Tampa