An experimental evaluation of the effect of sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) predation on red sea urchins (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus) was initiated at San Nicolas Island, California in Sept. 1980. All sheephead (N=220) were removed from an area of approximately 12,700 m2 and subsequent changes in sea urchin numbers and microhabitat utilization were monitored along permanent transects for 24 months. The sea urchins within the transects were also measured in situ to determine changes in the size frequency distribution of the population. Although sea urchins rank only seventh in relative importance in the sheephead's diet at San Nicolas Island, there has been a significant increase in sea urchin numbers in the experimental area (26% increase/year) but there has been no change in the control site. Further, there has been a slight increase in the proportion of sea urchins occupying exposed versus sheltered microhabitats in the removal site. Changes in the size frequency distribution of the urchins were minimal (probably due to an observation period of only one year); the size frequency distribution was unimodal and skewed to the left, indicating weak recruitment of urchins. Comparisons of sheephead densities and the percent of sea urchins in exposed microhabitats (i.e. available to predation by sheephead) were also made at four areas around San Nicolas Island and three areas in Baja California. In areas with low sheephead densities (0-35/hectare) sea urchins were highly exposed, and in areas where sheephead densities were high (200-500/hectare), no urchins were exposed. This study demonstrates that sheephead are capable of regulating the density and microhabitat distribution of sea urchin populations. These results are discussed in relation to other factors which may affect sea urchin populations.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics