Leading role of the sea urchin Arbacia lixula in maintaining the barren state in southwestern Mediterranean
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Sympatric sea urchin species are usually considered to belong to the same grazer guild. Nevertheless, their role in community dynamics may vary due to species-specific morphological traits, feeding preferences and foraging behavior. In the Mediterranean Sea, the two species Paracentrotus lividus and Arbacia lixula co-occur in barren areas. Whereas P. lividus is usually considered responsible for creating a barren ground, the roles of the two sea urchin species in its maintenance are currently unclear. The relative and combined effects of P. lividus and A. lixula on maintaining the benthic community in the barren state were tested experimentally, using orthogonal exclusion of the two species. Results show that exclusion of A. lixula, regardless of the presence of P. lividus, led to a significant decrease in the surface of bare rock and a significant change of the algal assemblages, thus demonstrating the major role of this species in maintaining the barren state.
KeywordsBenthic Community Barren Area Crustose Coralline Alga Bare Rock Benthic Assemblage
This work is dedicated to the late O. Daniela Saracino, whose kind and patient teaching was an essential legacy. The authors wish to thank Davide Agnetta, Andrea Barcellona, Manfredi Di Lorenzo, Francesco Di Trapani, Davide Perricone, Fernando Rubino and Clauda Scianna for their assistance in the field experiments and Giuseppe Portacci for his assistance in image analysis. The authors are indebted to Julie-Anne Buck for revising the English text. Three anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript. This study was funded by the MPA “Isola di Ustica” and the Italian Ministry of the Environment and Protection of the Territory (MATT).
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