The relative influence of temperature and food on the metabolism of a marine invertebrate
Many benthic marine invertebrates exhibit a seasonal cycle in activities such as feeding, growth and reproduction. In temperate regions, this seasonality is typically correlated with coincident cycles in photoperiod, temperature and food availability and it can be difficult to determine which of these environmental factors is the key driver. Polar regions are characterised by greatly reduced seasonal variation in temperature, and an enhanced seasonality of food availability; they therefore form a natural laboratory for distinguishing the ecological effects of food from those of temperature. Here, we report a study of the common shallow water urchin Sterechinus neumayeri from Rothera Point, Antarctica. This species exhibits a marked seasonal variation in metabolic rate and feeding activity (which ceases completely in winter). In this study the metabolic rate of urchins collected in late winter and held in the laboratory without food was compared with that of wild urchins undertaking the transition to summer feeding and growth. Starved urchins showed a small rise in metabolic rate in summer which could be explained entirely by the small increase in temperature (Q10=2.5). At the same time, the wild population showed a much larger increase in metabolic rate related largely to the costs of feeding and growth. Rates of nitrogen excretion were also much larger in wild urchins, and the O:N atomic ratio indicated that starved urchins were depending to a greater extent on lipid and carbohydrate. Gut mass and test organic content showed no change in starved urchins, indicating that metabolic substrate was being provided by the gonad. The data suggest that in wild S. neumayeri only 15–20% of the summer increase in metabolism is caused directly by the temperature rise whereas 80–85% is caused by increased physiological activity associated with feeding, growth and spawning.