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MEPS
Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 625:71-87 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13038

Functional diversity among herbivorous sea urchins on a coral reef: grazing rate, dietary preference, and metabolism

Levi Steele Lewis1,2,*, Jennifer E. Smith1

1Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA
2Present address: Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA 95616, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Herbivores influence the structure and function of ecosystems, especially in the marine environment where ecosystems can be rapidly transformed due to the presence or absence of a single important grazer or grazing community. Intra-guild variation in the ecological functions of herbivores, however, likely determines their ultimate effects on benthic dynamics. For example, echinoids (sea urchins) can facilitate the growth of stony corals by consuming fleshy algal competitors, yet our understanding of taxonomic variation in their grazing behaviors remains limited. Here, we examined the trophic functions of 5 herbivorous echinoids on a coral reef in Maui, Hawaii. We conducted field-based assays to compare grazing rates and consumption profiles using several key algal functional groups and contrasted the results with reported differences in echinoid metabolism. Grazing rates varied among species by up to 10-fold, with taxonomic differences explaining 77-85% of the variation among individual urchins and metabolic rate explaining 81-98% of the taxonomic variation in mean biomass and energy ingestion rates. Though all species consumed several algae, they also exhibited distinct grazing behaviors. Species with lower metabolic rates exhibited the largest intraspecific variation in diets and showed no clear algal preferences. In contrast, species with higher metabolic rates consistently consumed or avoided specific macroalgae, indicating a positive relationship between metabolic rate and diet specificity. This phylogenetic variation in grazing and metabolism aligns with classic metabolic and foraging theory and suggests that species identity, community structure, and complementarity are likely key to understanding the functional roles of herbivorous echinoid communities on coral reefs.


KEY WORDS: Biodiversity · Metabolic theory · In situ · Field experiment · Hawaii · Macroalgae · Turf · CCA · Preference · Echinoid


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Cite this article as: Lewis LS, Smith JE (2019) Functional diversity among herbivorous sea urchins on a coral reef: grazing rate, dietary preference, and metabolism. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 625:71-87. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13038

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