Marine Biology

, Volume 78, Issue 2, pp 153–164 | Cite as

Mass mortality of Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (Echinodermata: Echinoidea) off Nova Scotia, Canada

  • R. E. Scheibling
  • R. L. Stephenson


A mass mortality of Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, attributed to disease, was monitored in an echinoiddominated barren ground at Eagle Head on the south-western coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1982. Mortality was 70% in a shallow (3 m) nearshore area, resulting in a loss of echinoid biomass of 2 042 g fresh weight m-2, and 6% in deeper (7 m, 10 m) offshore areas. Echinoid density, size and nutritional condition (gonad index) were highest in the nearshore area. Survivorship was higher in juveniles (<15 mm diameter) than in adults resulting in the formation of a bimodal size distribution in the nearshore area. Mortality began around early October, near the peak of the annual cycle of seawater temperature (∼15°C), and was arrested by early December (seawater temperature ∼7°C) when morbid echinoids appeared to recover. In laboratory experiments, time to morbidity of S. droebachiensis exposed to morbid conspecifics increased exponentially with decreasing temperature (20° to 8°C). There was no survival at 20° and 16°C, 20% survival at 12°C and 100% survival at 8°C after 60 d; suggesting a lower temperature limit (between 12° and 8°C) for possible transmission of a pathogenic agent. Morbid laboratory echinoids from experiments at 16°C, and recovering echinoids collected in the nearshore area in early December, showed 100 and 85% survival respectively at <=8°C, and 0 and 15% survival respectively at 16°C, after 30 d. Time to morbidity was not affected significantly by nutritional condition and was similar for juvenile and adult echinoids. Time to morbidity was greater in echinoids exposed to one or three morbid individuals continuously, or seven morbid individuals for 1 h, relative to higher levels of exposure (up to seven morbid individuals continuously). Recent mass mortalities in S. droebachiensis have occurred in years of record high sea surface temperatures. The extent of mortality is correlated with the magnitude and duration of temperatures above a lower limit.


Biomass Nutritional Condition Annual Cycle Nova Scotia Barren Ground 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. E. Scheibling
    • 1
  • R. L. Stephenson
    • 1
  1. 1.Biology DepartmentDalhousie UniversityHalifaxCanada

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