MEPS 566:105-115 (2017)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12034

Interacting effects of temperature, habitat and phenotype on predator avoidance behaviour in Diadema antillarum: implications for restorative conservation

M. D. V. Bodmer1,2,*, P. M. Wheeler2, A. M. Hendrix1, D. N. Cesarano3, A. S. East4, D. A. Exton

1Operation Wallacea, Wallace House, Old Bolingbroke, Spilsby, Lincolnshire PE23 4EX, UK
2School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, The Open University, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, UK
3School of Marine Science and Engineering, Plymouth University, Drake Circus, Plymouth, Devon PL4 8AA, UK
4Department of Geography, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Caribbean long-spined sea urchin Diadema antillarum populations crashed following a mass mortality event in 1983-1984 with cascading effects on reef health. Population restoration efforts may be hampered by unknown effects of short- and long-term elevated sea surface temperature (SST). We investigated how a key behavioural trait, predator avoidance behaviour (PAB; percentage of long defensive spines that moved in response to shadow stimuli), was affected by elevated SST in 180 individuals from 2 contrasting Honduran reefs: Utila (flattened reef structure, dearth of predation refugia) and Banco Capiro (complex reef structure, abundant refugia). Initiation of PAB is mediated by melanin, which breaks down at elevated water temperatures; thus, as SST rises, D. antillarum may become vulnerable to predation. We compared local current SST (CSST; 29.7°C) with 2 IPCC predicted long-term climate change scenarios under laboratory conditions. PAB decreased by 13.98-15.37% at CSST +1.4°C and 31.67-42.44% at CSST +3.1°C. Trial temperatures were similar to maxima recorded in the Caribbean during the 2016 El Niño, so our results also represent likely responses to worst-case short-term acute temperature anomalies. Juveniles maintained higher PAB than adults, indicating increased reliance on anti-predation behaviours. White-spined phenotypes from Utila’s flattened reef maintained higher PAB than black-spined counterparts, likely due to increased conspicuousness to visual predators. Habitat complexity may mitigate temperature-driven losses in natural behavioural defences. D. antillarum may be resilient to near-term (<2039) SST increases and periodic temperature stresses but may struggle under long-term, worst-case scenario conditions. Restoration of D. antillarum populations must be coupled to augmented reef complexity to improve future resilience.


KEY WORDS: Long-spined sea urchin · Climate change · IPCC · Conservation · Future-proof · Honduras · Caribbean


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Cite this article as: Bodmer MDV, Wheeler PM, Hendrix AM, Cesarano DN, East AS, Exton DA (2017) Interacting effects of temperature, habitat and phenotype on predator avoidance behaviour in Diadema antillarum: implications for restorative conservation. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 566:105-115. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12034

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