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Seasonal inhibitory effects of marine plants on sea urchins: structuring communities the algal way

Abstract.

Natural and manipulative experiments were used to evaluate the effect of algal cover on sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus polyacanthus) distribution on submarine pinnacles at Shemya Island in the western Aleutian Archipelago. In July, pinnacle tops had dense kelp stands with low densities of sea urchins. In subsequent months, urchin densities increased as annual algal cover declined. In the summer, removal of specific combinations of macroalgae from the pinnacle tops resulted in an increase in urchin density. Artificial structures that imitated certain common seaweeds were placed on pinnacle tops and inhibited urchin movement. Clod cards that were used to measure relative abrasion rates on vegetated and cleared pinnacles demonstrated that algae cause a significant amount of abrasion. This study showed that the physical structure of the dominant annual alga, Desmarestia viridis, is capable of limiting sea urchin distribution, movement, and grazing. In this study, a potential food source actively controlled herbivore distribution and was the primary cause for the persistence of isolated kelp communities surrounded by barrens dominated by sea urchin grazing.

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Konar, B. Seasonal inhibitory effects of marine plants on sea urchins: structuring communities the algal way. Oecologia 125, 208–217 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004420000440

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s004420000440

Key words

  • Plant-herbivore interactions
  • Urchin mobility
  • Algal abrasion