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Response to drift kelp is modified by both substratum and season: green sea urchin foraging behaviour in subsidized habitats

posted on 2023-03-23, 18:37 authored by Kathleen MacGregorKathleen MacGregor, Ladd E. Johnson


The ability of organisms to detect, locate and navigate to resource patches is modified by the surrounding landscape. Green sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) in barren grounds exist in a food-limited state and are subject to intense competition. Rapid detection and consumption of resource patches, particularly pieces of macroalgae from adjacent algal beds, are key in determining individual growth, survival and reproductive success. Detection and movement to resource patches requires moving through a heterogeneous benthic seascape composed of rocky and sandy patches, presenting different degrees of resistance to movement. We used time-lapse photography to describe the foraging behaviour of urchins in relation to the presence of a key resource subsidy (drift kelp) and different benthic seascapes. We demonstrated that urchins could detect the presence of drift kelp in barren ground habitats and alter their movement behaviour in response, but did not exhibit the ability to directionally navigate towards kelp in field conditions. Seascapes with increased proportions of rocky substrata facilitated increased movement in response to the presence of drift. Moreover, urchin foraging behaviour was temporally variable, with no response to the presence of drift in early spring (May). This indicates not only that interpretations of observations of urchin behaviour must take intrinsic and extrinsic seasonal dynamics into account, but that extrapolating results to explain larger-scale patterns and processes must include both spatially explicit subtidal seascapes and temporal dynamics. In many temperate and boreal regions, this indicates the need for increased subtidal benthic research in the fall and winter.


All data used for analysis and presentation of the results are included here, along with R scripts used for analysis. Datasets include original points extracted from photo sequences, images, a track-level dataset combined with both spatial and current information, a step-level dataset combined with both spatial and current information, urchin density data per sequence, spatial information per time-lapse sequence, and metadata per time-lapse sequence. R scripts include the files for analyses, including a R script detailing the preprocessing and order of scripts used in data treatment and analysis and creation of figures presented the published manuscript.


Financial support for this project came from NSERC Strategic and Discovery grants awarded to LEJ, and graduate student awards from the FQRNT, NSERC, Québec-Océan and the Biology Department at Université Laval to KAM.