Marine Biology

, Volume 63, Issue 1, pp 39–49

The role of behavioral responses to predators in modifying urchins' (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) destructive grazing and seasonal foraging patterns


  • B. B. Bernstein
    • Department of BiologyDalhousie University
  • B. E. Williams
    • Department of BiologyDalhousie University
  • K. H. Mann
    • Department of BiologyDalhousie University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00394661

Cite this article as:
Bernstein, B.B., Williams, B.E. & Mann, K.H. Mar. Biol. (1981) 63: 39. doi:10.1007/BF00394661


We documented spatial and temporal patterns of urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) and periwinkles (Littorina littorea) in three habitats: a persistent Laminaria longicruris and L. digitata bed; an urchin dominated barrens, and the edge of the kelp bed that formed a boundary between the two. Urchins were rare in the kelp and, when present, always large and well hidden, a pattern we interpret as a response to crab and lobster predation. Urchins were abundant in the barrens, and, in the summer when predaceous fish were active during the day, foraged only at nigh. We observed the formation of a dense urchin feeding front along the kelp bed edge, and these urchins remained exposed and feeding even during the summer. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that aggregations are an effective defense against some predators, and that the presence of crabs increases the tendency of large urchins to aggregate. We hypothesize that healthy Laminaria spp. beds persist because kelp bed associated predators keep urchins at low densities and in hiding. A reduction in predation pressure permits urchin densities to increase to the point where they form aggregations, which provide better defense than hiding. These aggregations then graze destructively on Laminaria spp., forming barrens. These barrens seem to be a new, stable configuration of the system.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1981