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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 302:307-310 (2005)  -  doi:10.3354/meps302307

Sea urchin Diadema antillarum: different functions in the structure and dynamics of reefs on both sides of the Atlantic

Fernando Tuya1,*, Ricardo J. Haroun1, Arturo Boyra1, Pablo Sanchez-Jerez2

1BIOGES, Department of Biology, Campus Tafira, University of Las Palmas de G.C., 35017 Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain
2Marine Biology Lab, Department of Marine Sciences, University of Alicante, POB 99, 03080 Alicante, Spain

ABSTRACT: The long-spined black sea urchin Diadema antillarum has been involved in phase shifts between ‘desired’ and ‘undesired’ states in the organization of shallow reefs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean between 18 and 33°N, but with significantly different ecological outcomes. In the western Atlantic, high densities of D. antillarum previously exerted considerable grazing pressure on reefs where corals and turf algae were the main biological engineers; however, subsequent to a massive die-off of D. antillarum from disease in 1983–1984, many reefs have gradually become dominated by foliose algae. In contrast, hyperabundances of D. antillarum (>10 ind. m–2) in the eastern Atlantic have caused the elimination of erect vegetative frameworks with the subsequent creation of ‘barrens’. As a result, this invertebrate is directly implicated in the ‘health’ of important components of the biogenic frameworks of reefs on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Efforts in the western Atlantic are concentrated on the restoration of populations of D. antillarum to enhance coral abundance, recruitment and survivorship, while ecologists and managers in the eastern Atlantic focus on possible mechanisms to control hyperabundances of this species. We believe that the disproportionate effects of a single herbivorous species in mediating transitions between alternate states on the 2 sides of the Atlantic Ocean may be a direct consequence of a decline in the resilience of coastal ecosystems to disturbance. This decline was principally caused by decreased diversity of many of the functional groups that inhabit the Atlantic Ocean; both the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean have experienced large reductions in predatory and other fish populations.

KEY WORDS: Sea urchins · Reefs · Alternate states · Regime shifts · Community organization · Atlantic Ocean · Bioengineers · Diadema antillarum

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