Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

Grazing effects of the sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii in two contrasting rocky reef habitats: effects of urchin density and its implications for the fishery

Nicole A. Hill, Craig Blount, Alistair G. B. Poore, Duncan Worthington and Peter D. Steinberg

Marine and Freshwater Research 54(6) 691 - 700
Published: 18 November 2003


The sea urchin Centrostephanus rodgersii plays an important role in determining the abundance and composition of benthic macroalgae in New South Wales. Centrostephanus rodgersii is commonly found in areas devoid of foliose algae (termed 'barrens habitat'), which abruptly change into areas rich in foliose algae (termed 'fringe habitat'). Complementary experiments were used to investigate the impact of C. rodgersii grazing on algal assemblages at a range of densities in the barrens and fringe habitats. Although 33% of the natural density of C. rodgersii maintained barrens areas relatively free of foliose algae, only densities exceeding natural densities within barrens habitat cleared areas dominated by macroalgae. The impact of grazing was not linearly related to density in either habitat, which suggests that both the barrens and fringe habitats are stable and will persist unless there is a dramatic decrease in urchin densities in barrens areas or a large influx into fringe areas. These findings have significant implications for the commercial harvesting of C. rodgersii. They imply that reducing urchin densities in barrens habitats, or translocating urchins from barrens to fringe habitats in order to improve roe quality, will not significantly alter the algal assemblage of either habitat in the short term (less than 3 months).

Keywords: barrens habitat, fringe habitat, grazing patterns.

© CSIRO 2003

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