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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 637:71-85 (2020)  -  DOI:

Trophic plasticity in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus, as a function of resource availability and habitat features

Judith Camps-Castellà1,2,*, Javier Romero2, Patricia Prado1

1IRTA-Aquatic Ecosystems. Ctra. Poble Nou Km 5.5, 43540 Sant Carles de la Ràpita, Spain
2Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Section of Ecology, University of Barcelona, Av. Diagonal, 645, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Factors controlling herbivory pressure are of central importance in shaping the seascape. In the Mediterranean, the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus is considered as a keystone herbivore in seagrass meadows and macroalgal communities. Here we explored the trophic behavior of this sea urchin in a shallow seagrass habitat of Cymodocea nodosa mixed with Caulerpa prolifera and interspersed with sandy areas in Alfacs Bay, Ebro Delta (NW Mediterranean). The seasonal pseudo-indigenous bryozoan Amathia verticillata is locally very abundant, and there is also an important population of pen shells Pinna nobilis, providing hard substrate and cover, thus being a unique environment for assessing sea urchin trophic behavior. To this end, we conducted an ensemble of food preference and foraging experiments and stomach content and stable isotope analyses. Our results showed that sea urchins strongly prefer A. verticillata over other local resources, and there was also an important presence of the bryozoan in stomach contents (ca. 44%), coupled with green and decayed seagrass leaves. Stable isotope analyses revealed that over the long term, ca. 65% of the diet of P. lividus was based on decayed seagrass leaves, followed by the bryozoan and green seagrass leaves (21.7 and 13.3%, respectively). The local availability of P. nobilis provides a preferred substrate for sea urchins, which showed limited foraging movements into the surrounding seagrass beds, particularly when A. verticillata was attached to the pen shells. The apparently high contribution of animal and detrital food to P. lividus diet is unprecedented, and suggests an opportunistic feeding behavior in sea urchins in those habitats.

KEY WORDS: Trophic behavior · Amathia verticillata · Seagrass beds · Pinna nobilis · Stable isotopes

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Cite this article as: Camps-Castellà J, Romero J, Prado P (2020) Trophic plasticity in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus, as a function of resource availability and habitat features. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 637:71-85.

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