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

Colour patterns in the sea urchin, Heliocidaris erythrogramma, suggest limited connectivity across the Southern and Pacific Ocean coastlines of Australia

Hayden J. Beck A and Craig A. Styan A B C

A School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, PO Box 423, Warrnambool, Vic. 3280, Australia. Present address: Environmental Geology Group, School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia.

B Present address: RPS Environment, Level 2/47 Colin Street, West Perth, WA 6007, Australia and Oceans Institute, University of Western Australia, Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 61(2) 143-152
Submitted: 17 May 2008  Accepted: 2 May 2009   Published: 25 February 2010


Heliocidaris erythrogramma is a widespread Australian sea urchin whose colour varies greatly. Here we report large-scale, hierarchically structured surveys, testing for patterns in colouration of H. erythrogramma associated with wave exposure, and consistency between populations from the Pacific and Southern Oceans. Along the Southern Ocean coastline, more urchins with white dermis were found in (ocean swell-exposed) open coast regions, whereas more urchins with red dermis were usually found in the (ocean swell-protected) bay regions. In contrast, only red dermis urchins were found in both open coast and bay regions along the Pacific coastline. Spine colour was found to be independent of test colour within locations and, while no differences in the frequencies of spine colours were detected between regions of different wave exposure, differences were detected across 1–100s of km within coastlines. Large differences in the frequencies of spine colours were also detected between the two coastlines. Clear differences in two independent characteristics of colour between Southern Ocean and Pacific coastlines, combined with intermediate patterns at a location near the junction of these coastlines, suggest that large-scale morphological patterns might reflect intra-specific genetic differentiation within H. erythrogramma, large-scale environmental differences between temperate Australian coastlines, or an interaction between these two factors.

Additional keywords: hierarchical survey, morphology, polymorphism.


In total, 3412 urchins were collected (and then returned to the sea alive) with the help of Ryan Beck, Kevin Chisholm, Ben Dorner, Luke Dunlop, Matt Kuit, Doug Smith and Matt Wilson-Barnard. Funding for this work came from the Hermon Slade Foundation. Claire McClusky and two anonymous referees provided very useful comments on the manuscript. Samples were collected under scientific research permits from NSW and Victorian Department of Primary Industries. This study complies with the current laws of Australia.


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