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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Effects of dead conspecifics, hunger states, and seasons on the foraging behavior of the purple urchin Heliocidaris crassispina

Dominic Franco C. Belleza, Yuuki Kawabata, Tatsuki Toda, Gregory N. Nishihara*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Trophic cascades are a powerful effect between predator and prey relationships in an ecosystem. In aquatic environments, the signals associated with predators and predation are used by prey as a cue to avoid encountering predators when foraging for food. These behavioural cues can be powerful enough to control prey populations and indirectly protect primary producers. Here we evaluated the effects of cues associated with predation on the purple urchin, Heliocidaris crassispina and examined effects of hunger state and season using time-lapse photography. A series of laboratory and in situ manipulative experiments were conducted to determine patterns of foraging behavior and behavioral modification. We show that starved urchins were less sensitive to predation cues when compared to normally fed urchins. Field experiments indicated that 70% of fed urchins fled when exposed to a predation cue (presence of a dead urchin), whereas starved urchins remained regardless of the cue, supporting results from the laboratory using dead urchin and algal cues. Sea urchin activity and feeding rates were lower in winter-spring than in summer-autumn. Results suggest that hunger state has a large influence over the behavioral response of sea urchins, while also being affected by season due to metabolic control. In general, starvation appears to override predator avoidance behaviors which exposes prey species to higher risks of predation.