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Welcome mats? The role of seagrass meadow structure in controlling post-settlement survival in a keystone sea-urchin species

AuthorsPrado, Patricia ; Romero, Javier; Alcoverro, Teresa
Rhizome mat structure
Sea urchins
Population structure
Posidonia oceanica
Issue DateNov-2009
CitationEstuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 85(3) : 472–478 (2009)
AbstractProcesses acting on the early-life histories of marine organisms can have important consequences for the structuring of benthic communities. In particular, the degree of coupling between larval supply and adult abundances can wield considerable influence on the strength of trophic interactions in the ecosystem. These processes have been relatively well described in rocky systems and soft-sediment communities, and it is clear that they are governed by very different bottlenecks. Seagrass meadows make interesting study systems because they bear structural affinities to both soft sediments as well as rocky substrates. We examined the early-life history of Paracentrotus lividus, one of the dominant herbivores in Mediterranean seagrass meadows, to identify the drivers of population dynamics in this species. We measured spatial and temporal variability in sea urchin post-settlement in 10 Posidonia oceanica meadows in the North-Western Mediterranean over a period of two years, and compared the numbers with the one-year old cohort a year later (i.e. the new population recruitment) as well as between successive size–age groups. Urchin post-settlers differed substantially between meadows but were present in both years in all meadows surveyed, suggesting that larval supply was not limiting for any of the studied sites. However, in six of the studied meadows, the one-year cohort of urchins was absent in both years, indicating that post-settlement processes strongly affected urchins in these meadows. In contrast, in four of the studied meadows, there was a strong coupling between post-settlers and one-year cohort individuals. These meadows were structurally different from the others in that they were characterised by an exposed matrix of rhizomes forming a dense seagrass mat. This mat apparently strongly mediates post-settlement mortality, and its presence or absence dictates the successful establishment of urchin populations in seagrass meadows. As the population aged, the relationship between size–age groups decreased evidencing the action of other processes. Yet, these results indicate that differences in physical structure are a vital bottleneck for sea urchin populations in seagrass meadows. Exploring the interaction between ecosystem structure and early-life history may provide a broader and more unified framework to understand the dynamics of a range of benthic habitats, including rocky substrates, soft sediments and seagrass meadows.
Description7 páginas, 5 figuras, 2 tablas.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2009.09.012
Appears in Collections:(CEAB) Artículos
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