Annual reproductive cycle of the green sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, in differing habitats in Nova Scotia, Canada
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We monitored the reproductive cycle of Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis (OF Müller) between April 1993 and August 1995 in kelp beds, barren grounds and grazing fronts at both a wave-exposed and a sheltered site along the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. Gonad index and histological analyses showed that S. droebachiensis has an annual reproductive cycle that is synchronous across sites and habitats, and between females and males. Spawning occurs in March/April of each year but a small proportion of sea urchins in the study populations also spawned in fall 1995. During most of the year, sea urchins in kelp beds and grazing fronts have a higher gonad index than those in barren grounds. Gonad indices also tended to be higher at the wave-exposed than the sheltered site. Interannual variability in peak gonad index was significant in the barren grounds at the wave-exposed site and in the grazing front at the sheltered site. The gametogenic cycle is characterized by six stages based on the abundance of nutritive and germinal/gametic cells. Nutritive phagocytes are abundant after spawning and replaced by increasing numbers of germinal and gametic cells as the gametogenic cycle progresses. The temporal patterns of abundance of each cell type were similar among habitats indicating that the gonads were qualitatively similar despite large differences in gonadal mass. The quantity of gut contents (ratio of food volume to body volume) was similar among habitats, but the quality (percentage of organic material) tended to be higher in kelp beds and grazing fronts than in barren grounds suggesting that differences in gonad index of S. droebachiensis in different habitats are related to differences in diet. The high density of sea urchins in grazing fronts combined with their high fecundity suggests that they make the greatest contribution, per unit area, to the overall larval pool.
KeywordsNova Scotia Barren Ground Gonad Index Sheltered Site Annual Reproductive Cycle
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