Episodic rainfall influences the distribution and abundance of the regular sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus in Saint Andrew Bay northern gulf of Mexico

Academic Article


  • The distribution and abundance of Lytechinus variegatus (Lamarck) were determined at three shallow-water stations in Saint Andrew Bay, FL, in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Populations were monitored at 4-mo intervals from Aug. 1997 to Aug. 1999 along 2- × 10-m transects, with four transects at each station. In Aug. 1997 individuals ranged in size from 15- to 63-mm diameter (mean = 38 mm; density = 1.4 individuals (ind.) m-2) at Station 1 (Stations 2 and 3 were not sampled on that date). By Oct. 1997 individuals at Station 1 ranged in size from 26 to 62 mm (mean = 48 mm; density = 0.6 ind. m-2), suggesting the growth of individuals within the population. At Station 2, individuals ranged between 50 and 70 mm (mean = 59 mm; densities = 1.0 ind. m-2) and at Station 3 between 30 and 79 mm (mean = 51 mm; densities = 1.4 ind. m-2) in Oct. 1997, indicating a population with no recent recruits. A mass mortality event was observed in April 1998 and was attributed to reduced salinities resulting from above-average rainfall in the previous month. Sea urchins were absent at Stations 1 and 2, whereas at Station 3 postdisturbance recruits were smaller (mean = 28 mm) and densities lower. Sea urchin tests were also observed at beach stations proximate to Stations 1 and 2. By July 1998 the populations had partially recovered at Stations 2 and 3 (densities = 0.6 and 1.1 ind. m-2, respectively), but test diameters were small at both stations. Test diameters had increased in Dec. 1998 at Station 3 when compared with those of July, but individuals at Station 2 showed overall smaller test diameters (mean = 28 mm), and densities had decreased again, presumably after another mass mortality caused by another major rainfall in Sep. In April 1999 test diameters had decreased further at Stations 2 and 3, indicating emigration or death of larger animals. We suggest that the shallow-water Saint Andrew Bay population of L. variegatus is reduced for several years at a time by episodic heavy rainfalls. This observation emphasizes the importance of density-independent processes controlling the distribution and abundance of marine organisms.
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    Author List

  • Bottger SA; Thompson LE; Watts SA; McClintock JB; Lawrence JM
  • Start Page

  • 67
  • End Page

  • 74
  • Volume

  • 20
  • Issue

  • 1