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Open Access item A wolf in sheep’s clothing: carnivory in dominant sea urchins in the Mediterranean

Authors:Wangensteen, Owen S.
Turon, Xavier
García-Cisneros, Álex
Recasens, Mireia
Romero, Javier
Palacín, Carlos
Keywords:Trophic relationships, Stable isotope analysis, Benthic community, Arbacia lixula, Paracentrotus lividus
Issue Date:2011
Publisher:Inter Research
Citation:Marine Ecology Progresss Series 441 : 117-128 (2011)
Abstract:Arbacia lixula and Paracentrotus lividus are the dominant sea urchins in the Mediterranean sublittoral, where they are key structuring species due to their grazing activity. It has been commonly accepted that competition between both species is minimized by specializing in different algal foods: A. lixula is considered to feed mainly on encrusting coralline algae, while P. lividus prefers fleshy macroalgae. We used stable isotope analysis to test if these species occupy different trophic positions at three western Mediterranean and one Macaronesian locations. Our results unambiguously show that A. lixula always occupies a higher trophic level than P. lividus, with a δ15N comparable in some locations to strict carnivores such as Actinia schmidti or Marthasterias glacialis. A temporal monitoring at one locality showed that this signature of a higher trophic level is consistent throughout the year. These results are incompatible with the current belief of an herbivorous diet for A. lixula and suggest that it must be considered an omnivore tending to carnivory in Mediterranean ecosystems, feeding at least partially on sessile animals such as Cirripedia, Hydrozoa or Bryozoa. A parallel analysis of gut contents showed a predominance of vegetal items in both species, although A. lixula consistently had a higher abundance of animal components than P. lividus. Our results challenge the validity of using gut content observations alone for characterizing the trophic behaviour of omnivorous marine invertebrates that feed on a variety of food sources with different digestibility.
Description:12 páginas, 4 figuras, 6 tablas.
Publisher version (URL):http://dx.doi.org/10.3354/meps09359
Appears in Collections:(CEAB) Artículos

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