AB 5:233-243 (2009)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00154

Spatial subsidy in the subtidal zone: utilization of drift algae by a deep subtidal sea urchin

Kevin H. Britton-Simmons1,*, Gerard Foley1, Daniel Okamoto1,2

1University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories, 620 University Road, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250, USA
2Present address: University of Alaska Fairbanks, School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, Juneau Center, 11120 Glacier Highway, Juneau, Alaska 99801, USA

ABSTRACT: Spatial subsidies link adjacent habitats and can have strong effects on recipient systems. Within temperate nearshore marine ecosystems, algae dominate rocky benthic communities in the shallow subtidal but are supplanted by invertebrates at deeper depths where light becomes limiting. Detrital macrophytes transported into deep subtidal habitats by hydrodynamic forces may subsidize deep organisms, but little is known about the availability or utilization of this organic material. We used descriptive field studies to study drift macrophyte utilization by the red urchin Strongylocentrotus franciscanus, a commercially harvested species found in both shallow and deep habitats in Washington, USA. Our primary goals were to evaluate urchin diet, urchin fecundity, and drift macrophyte abundance in the deep subtidal zone (>20 m depth). Although seasonally variable, macrophyte detritus was present year-round in the deep subtidal (23 m depth) and diet data suggest it is the primary food resource for deep subtidal red urchins. Perennial kelps were the main contributors to the detrital pool (54% of biomass), particularly the shallow subtidal species Saccharina subsimplex (37% of biomass). At 4 of our 5 study sites, red urchins from deep habitats had gonad indices as large as sea urchins from shallow habitats, suggesting that drift algae are an abundant food resource in the deep subtidal zone of our study region. A comparison of our results with previous studies indicates that the availability of macroalgal detritus in the deep subtidal varies considerably in space and may be influenced by the hydrodynamic context. We suggest that successful management of subsidized species may require understanding subsidy sources and fluxes because changes in the production or delivery of organic material can have important consequences for recipient populations.

KEY WORDS: Drift kelp · Strongylocentrotus franciscanus · Macroalgal detritus · Allochthonous input

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Cite this article as: Britton-Simmons KH, Foley G, Okamoto D (2009) Spatial subsidy in the subtidal zone: utilization of drift algae by a deep subtidal sea urchin. Aquat Biol 5:233-243. https://doi.org/10.3354/ab00154

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