Smashing tests? Patterns and mechanisms of adult mortality in a declining echinoid population
Mass mortality of echinoids is well documented, and has potentially profound effects on benthic communities. However, no study to date has quantitatively investigated how regular, predictable events such as winter storms might lead to large mortality events in pivotal echinoid species. Hydrodynamic disturbances can be major drivers of crucial biological processes in benthic communities. For echinoid populations in particular, wave action in shallow waters generated by high winds (winter storms) can cause displacement, damage and even death to individuals. However, evidence for displacement-mediated mortality is scant in the literature, in part because it is so difficult to demonstrate in exposed environments where echinoids are frequently found. In this study, we examined mortality in a sheltered subtidal population of the European purple sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus over a 3-year period, and examined the role that dislodgement by wave action or predation might play in these mortality patterns. Because our study population has been in decline for the past three decades, we considered it important to evaluate its current status in addition to assessing the contribution that adult mortality makes to that decline. We sampled twice per month, using the density of freshly dead echinoid material to assess the extent of adult mortality. The Irish Meteorological Service provided our estimates of wind speed data. We compared historical and recent data on P. lividus size frequency data to investigate change the population structure (Poor recruitment would be caused by failure to spawn over a prolonged period). Our data suggest ongoing declines in this population, and support the theory that the decline of the P. lividus population of Lough Hyne is a result of persistent recruitment failure linked to repeated cool maximum sea surface temperatures. Although we found peaks of P. lividus mortality were coincident with spikes in wind speed, mortality was low, and seems unlikely to have contributed significantly to the dramatic decline in P. lividus in the past three decades.
Authors: Verling, Emma, Barnes, David K.A., Crook, Anne C.