Heat waves, baby booms, and the destruction of kelp beds by sea urchins
- Cite this article as:
- Hart, M.W. & Scheibling, R.E. Mar. Biol. (1988) 99: 167. doi:10.1007/BF00391978
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Large populations of sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (Müller), destroyed kelp beds along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia in the 1960's and 1970's. The origin of these large sea urchin populations is not understood. We have investigated the potential influence of variable growth and development of the planktonic larvae of sea urchins (in response to temperature and food abundance) on recruitment of benthic juveniles. The adult sea urchins were collected at Sandy Cove, Digby County, Nova Scotia, Canada, in December 1986. Temperature strongly affected larval size and the growth of the echinus rudiment within the range 3° to 9°C, and larvae grew most rapidly at 14°C. Food abundance had a smaller effect on larval growth, and these effects were apparent only at high temperature. Larvae fed the same concentration of two different algal food species grew and developed similarly. Correspondence between spring temperature variation and qualitative variation in sea urchin recruitment, as well as strong temperature effects on larval growth in culture, and the occurrence of a large, positive temperature anomaly in June 1960, all suggest that temperature effects on larval growth and development may have led to intense sea urchin recruitment in 1960 and the appearance of large adult populations 4 to 6 yr later. This result invites further research.