Demographic characteristics of Lytechinus variegatus (Echinoidea: Echinodermata) from three habitats in a North Florida Bay, Gulf of Mexico

Academic Article


  • The population densities, spatial distributions, size frequencies, growth rates, longevity and reproductive activities of sub-populations of the sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus were investigated over a two-year period. Sea urchins were examined in three habitats in Saint Joseph Bay, Florida, which is within the northern limits of their distribution. Densities of sea urchins, which ranged as high as 35 individuals ยท m-2, fluctuated seasonally at all sites and were higher in seagrass beds comprised of Thalassia testudinum than Syringodium filiforme or on a sand flat. A cold front caused large-scale, catastrophic mortality among adult, and especially juvenile, sea urchins in near-shore habitats of the Bay in the spring of 1993, leading to a dramatic decline in sea urchin densities at the Thalassia seagrass site. The population recovered over 6 months at this site and was attributable to immigration of new adults. Juvenile recruitment displayed both interannual and site-specific variability, with recruitment being highest in seagrass habitats in fall and spring. The most pronounced recruitment event occurred in fall 1993 at the Thalassia site. Spatial distributions of adult individuals ascertained monthly never varied from random in the seagrass beds (T. testudinum and S. filiforme) or during spring, summer or fall months on the sand flat. Nonetheless, aggregations of adult sea urchins were observed on the sand flat in the winter months and were associated with patchy distributions of plant food resources. Juvenile sea urchins ( <25 mm test diameter) exhibited aggregations at all sites and 67% of all juveniles under 10 mm test diameter (91 of 165 individuals observed) were found under the spine canopies of adults. Measurements of the inducibility of spawning indicated peak gametic maturity in all three sub-populations in spring and summer. Gonad indices varied between habitats and years, but distinct maxima were detected, particularly in spring 1993 and late summer 1994. The mean gonad index of individuals at the Syringodium seagrass site was 2- to 4-fold higher than the other sites in spring 1993 and gonad indices were much higher at all sites in spring of 1993 than 1994. Estimates of growth based on changes in size frequency cohorts coupled with measurements of growth bands on lantern demi-pyramids indicated that L. variegatus in three habitats of Saint Joseph Bay have similar growth rates and attain a mean test diameter of approximately 35 mm in one year. In contrast to populations within the central biogeographical range of the species, which may attain test diameters up to 90 mm, the largest individuals recorded in Saint Joseph Bay were 60 mm in test diameter, and almost all individuals were no more than 45 mm in test diameter or two years of age. The demographics of L. variegatus in the northern limits of their distribution appear to be strongly influenced by latitudinally driven, low-temperature events and secondarily by local abiotic factors, especially springtime low salinities, which may negatively impact larval development and recruitment.
  • Published In

  • Marine Ecology  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Beddingfield SD; McClintock JB
  • Start Page

  • 17
  • End Page

  • 40
  • Volume

  • 21
  • Issue

  • 1