Thermal and Hydrodynamic Environments Mediate Individual and Aggregative Feeding of a Functionally Important Omnivore in Reef Communities

Gagnon, Patrick and Frey, Desta L. (2015) Thermal and Hydrodynamic Environments Mediate Individual and Aggregative Feeding of a Functionally Important Omnivore in Reef Communities. PLoS ONE, 10 (3). ISSN 1932-6203

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In eastern Canada, the destruction of kelp beds by dense aggregations (fronts) of the omnivorous green sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis, is a key determinant of the structure and dynamics of shallow reef communities. Recent studies suggest that hydrodynamic forces, but not sea temperature, determine the strength of urchin-kelp interactions, which deviates from the tenets of the metabolic theory of ecology (MTE). We tested the hypothesis that water temperature can predict short-term kelp bed destruction by S. droebachiensis in calm hydrodynamic environments. Specifically, we experimentally determined relationships among water temperature, body size, and individual feeding in the absence of waves, as well as among wave velocity, season, and aggregative feeding. We quantified variation in kelp-bed boundary dynamics, sea temperature, and wave height over three months at one subtidal site in Newfoundland to test the validity of thermal tipping ranges and regression equations derived from laboratory results. Consistent with the MTE, individual feeding during early summer (June-July) obeyed a non-linear, size- and temperature-dependent relationship: feeding in large urchins was consistently highest and positively correlated with temperature <12°C and dropped within and above the 12–15°C tipping range. This relationship was more apparent in large than small urchins. Observed and expected rates of kelp loss based on sea temperature and urchin density and size structure at the front were highly correlated and differed by one order of magnitude. The present study speaks to the importance of considering body size and natural variation in sea temperature in studies of urchin-kelp interactions. It provides the first compelling evidence that sea temperature, and not only hydrodynamic forces, can predict kelp bed destruction by urchin fronts in shallow reef communities. Studying urchin-seaweed-predator interactions within the conceptual foundations of the MTE holds high potential for improving capacity to predict and manage shifts in marine food web structure and productivity.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 11790
Additional Information: Memorial University Open Access Author's Fund
Department(s): Science, Faculty of > Ocean Sciences
Date: 16 March 2015
Date Type: Publication
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