Energetic context determines the effects of multiple upwelling-associated stressors on sea urchin performance

Globally, kelp forests are threatened by multiple stressors, including increasing grazing by sea urchins. With coastal upwelling predicted to increase in intensity and duration in the future, understanding whether kelp forest and urchin barren urchins are differentially affected by upwelling-related stressors will give insight into how future conditions may affect the transition between kelp forests and barrens. We assessed how current and future-predicted changes in the duration and magnitude of upwelling-associated stressors (low pH, dissolved oxygen, and temperature) affected the performance of purple sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) sourced from rapidly-declining bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana) forests and nearby barrens and maintained on habitat-specific diets. Kelp forest urchins were of superior condition to barrens urchins, with ~ 6–9 times more gonad per body mass. Grazing and condition in kelp forest urchins were more negatively affected by distant-future and extreme upwelling conditions, whereas grazing and survival in urchins from barrens were sensitive to both current-day and all future-predicted upwelling, and to increases in acidity, hypoxia, and temperature regardless of upwelling. We conclude that urchin barren urchins are more susceptible to increases in the magnitude and duration of upwelling-related stressors than kelp forest urchins. These findings have important implications for urchin population dynamics and their interaction with kelp.

Murie K. A. & Bourdeau P. E., 2021. Energetic context determines the effects of multiple upwelling-associated stressors on sea urchin performance. Scientific Reports 11: 11313. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-90608-6. Article.

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