MEPS 251:141-151 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps251141

Consumption of drift kelp by intertidal populations of the sea urchin Tetrapygus niger on the central Chilean coast: possible consequences at different ecological levels

Sebastián R. Rodríguez1,2,*

1Departamento de Ciencias Básicas, Universidad Santo Tomas, Ejército 146, Santiago, Chile
2Center for Advanced Studies in Ecology & Biodiversity, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, P. Universidad Católica de Chile, Casilla 114-D, Santiago, Chile

ABSTRACT: Drift algae are an important food resource for many intertidal marine invertebrates. This study quantifies the arrival rate of drift kelp on the intertidal zone of central Chile and analyses its nutritional role in maintaining populations of the sea urchin Tetrapygus niger. The analysis was based on stomach contents and on stable isotope ratios of the food and the sea urchin. Gonad development was also evaluated. Lessonia nigrescens was the kelp most commonly observed, and its arrival pattern showed both temporal and spatial variation. The highest levels of drift kelp occurred in late spring, early summer and part of the autumn. Lessonia spp. were the most important food of T. niger, comprising 68% of the diet, and most of the assimilated carbon came from this source. The availability of drift kelp influenced gonad development. Trophic subsidies such as drift kelp are clearly important to intertidal animals of temperate ecosystems and have effects at different levels of biological organization. Two alternative scenarios of community organization are proposed for tidepools, depending on drift kelp availability.

KEY WORDS: Drift kelp · Rocky substratum · Tidepools · Sea urchins · Gonad development · Community structure

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