, Volume 100, Issue 4, pp 485-494

Settlement and recruitment of sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus spp.) in a sea-urchin barren ground and a kelp bed: are populations regulated by settlement or post-settlement processes?

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Abstract

I sampled recruitment of very small sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus spp.) by using the anesthetic magnesium chloride to remove individuals from substrata collected in sea-urchin barren grounds (barrens) and kelp beds at Naples Reef near Santa Barbara, California, USA. Preliminary sampling found low numbers of newly settled individuals(<0.6 mm test diam) from April–July in 1984 and 1985, and in April, 1986. In early May, 1986, I found many newly settled seaurchins (0.3 to 0.6 mm, 5 to 17 d old), and I compared the densities of the cohort on several types of natural substrata in barrens and kelp-bed habitats. Newly settled individuals of both purple sea urchins (S. purpuratus) and red sea urchins (S. franciscanus) were present in similar, high densities (1 000 S. purpuratus m-2) on foliose red algal turf, a dominant substratum ofthe kelp bed, and on crustose coralline algae, the dominant substratum of an adjacent barrens. Larvae of S. purpuratus reared and tested in the laboratory showed high rates of settlement on both red algal turf and on crustose coralline algae, but significantly lower rates on rock. Larvae also settled in response to a partiallypurified extract of coralline algae. The reduced settlement on natural rock surfaces relative to either algal treatment and the significant settlement in response to the extract of coralline algae indicate that larvae discriminate between natural substrata and probably respond to a settlement cue other than, or in addition to, a simple microbial (bacterial) film. The similar densities of young recruits of S. purpuratus on dominant substrata of barrens and kelp bed show that, at least in this case, differential settlement cannot explain the high densities of sea urchins in the barrens habitat. Movement between barrens and kelp bed is unlikely given the small sizes of the newly recruited sea urchins relative to the large distances often involved. Reduced post-settlement mortality of newly settled individuals in the barrens remains the most likely mechanism leading to the higher densities of sea urchins in barrens relative to kelp-bed habitats.

Communicated by J. M. Lawrence, Tampa
Communicated by J. Mauchline, Oban