Marine Biology

, Volume 159, Issue 5, pp 967–973 | Cite as

Reducing per capita food supply alters urchin condition and habitat

  • Juan P. LivoreEmail author
  • Sean D. Connell
Original Paper


When food supply declines or population density increases, the per capita food availability is reduced causing a decline in condition of consumers. Many consumers alter their feeding behaviour and ultimately the surrounding community (e.g. overgrazing and formation of urchin barrens). This study tested the hypothesis that sea urchin populations are of greater density and poorer condition in barrens (little food) than forest habitat (lots of food). We then tested the hypothesis that a decrease in per capita food supply to urchins has a negative effect not only on their condition but also on their surrounding habitat. We experimentally assessed the effect of limited food supply and increased density of a subtidal Australian sea urchin (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) on their condition (i.e. gonad index) and surrounding benthic habitat (i.e. turf-forming algae). Our results show that a reduction in food supply led to poorer consumer condition and greater herbivory on surrounding local habitat. We provide evidence that per capita food reduction is one of the necessary conditions for the over-consumption by urchins (i.e. urchin barrens), a proposed but previously untested mechanism.


Western Australia Kelp Forest Gonad Index Capita Food Conspecific Density 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We would like to thank John Naumann and Maria Eugenia Segade for assistance in the field and two anonymous thesis examiners for comments on earlier versions. This study was funded by an Australian Research Council grant to Sean Connell.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Southern Seas Ecology Laboratories, School of Earth and Environmental SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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