Marine Biology

, Volume 144, Issue 5, pp 1011–1018 | Cite as

Temporal and spatial variability in settlement of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus in the NW Mediterranean

Research Article

Abstract

Settlement into the benthic habitat may be an important process in regulating sea urchin abundance, which potentially modifies the structure of benthic communities. Strong settlement events may increase sea urchin abundance beyond a certain threshold, leading to the formation of coralline barrens (overgrazed communities with a dominance of encrusting coralline algae). To understand the role of settlement in regulating sea urchin populations we first need to determine settlement variability. Temporal variation in settlement of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus was monitored at three sites in the Medes Islands, NW Mediterranean, during three settlement seasons (March 1998 through October 2000). Spatial variation in settlement was studied in 1999 at 50 sites along a gradient of exposures to waves and currents, inside and outside the archipelago, and separated by distances from tens to thousands of meters. Bathymetric distribution of settlement was also studied in 2000 at six sites at 5, 10, 15 and 20 m depths. Settlement of P. lividus occurred in a single annual peak within 3 weeks in May–June. Differences in settlement between years were more than two orders of magnitude. Spatial variability was found at all scales investigated, showing strong patchiness at the smallest spatial scales (tens of meters). Sea urchins settled preferentially at depths between 5 and 10 m. Substratum type, level of protection, and adult population densities were not significant in determining settlement. However, settlement was found to be related to the degree of exposure to waves and currents, indicating that physical processes are very important at the spatial scales investigated. This greatly variable settlement is a necessary, although not sufficient, condition to create gradients of adult P. lividus abundance. Further studies should be designed to investigate the interaction between settlement strength and post-settlement mortality.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departament d’EcologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Center for Marine Biodiversity and ConservationScripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA

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