Experimental evidence that intra-specific competition in seagrass meadows reduces reproductive potential in the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus (Lamarck)
Keywords:competition, density-dependence, phenotypic plasticity, mortality, echinoid, Posidonia oceanica. Aristotle’s lantern, Mediterranean
To better understand the biological controls that regulate sea urchin dynamics, we studied the effects of potential inter- and intra-specific competition for food on several biological variables of the main sea urchin in the Mediterranean (Paracentrotus lividus). We carried out a caging experiment in which we manipulated sea urchin density (natural vs. high density) and herbivorous fish (Sarpa salpa) accessibility (free access vs. exclusion) in a Posidonia oceanica meadow. No evidence of competition between fish and urchins was detected. Neither density-dependent mortality nor changes in the somatic variables were found; however, we detected that intra-specific competition affected the reproductive potential of P. lividus. The gonad index of urchins at high population densities was ca. 30% lower than that of urchins at natural densities. As a spawning event had just occurred when urchins were collected, these differences probably reflect differences in reserve content, which may compromise the following reproductive period and decrease survival in the long term, as the gonads are also used as storage organs. For the time period studied, mortality rates appeared to be independent of local densities. The results indicate that a long-term negative feedback mechanism appears to take place in P. lividus in response to increased population density.
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