AB prepress abstract  -  doi: 10.3354/ab00669

In situ measurements of righting behavior in the common sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus: the importance of body size, substrate type and covering material

R. C. Challener*, J. B. McClintock

*Email: rchallener@bellarmine.edu

ABSTRACT: Righting behavior has been used extensively in laboratory studies of sea urchins as an indicator of stress under various environmental conditions. In situ measurements of the natural righting response of sea urchins would serve to place such laboratory measurements in an ecological context as well as potentially validate laboratory control conditions. We investigated the righting response of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus in seagrass and sand bottom habitats of Saint Joseph’s Bay, Florida. Field-measured righting times (other than the exception mentioned below) in L.variegatus were similar to those measured in laboratory studies. Moreover, as seen in multiple sea urchin species in laboratory studies, smaller individuals exhibited significantly shorter righting times than large individuals. Importantly, sea urchins lacking cover (shell material, seagrass blades) that were placed on open sand patches took significantly longer to right than those with covering material placed on sand patches. Our field observations indicate the importance of sea urchin size, substrate type and the presence or absence of covering materials when making righting measurements in the laboratory or the field. Our findings also suggest that higher water velocities facilitate righting, as at higher flows on sand patches, the presence/absence of covering material no longer significantly impacted righting time. These findings are ecologically important as they indicate that, under certain natural conditions (sand substrate, low availability of covering materials and low water velocities), L. variegatus that are displaced on to their aboral side are more vulnerable to predation.