Distribution and feeding ecology of sea stars in the Galápagos rocky subtidal zone

Sofia Castelló y Tickell, Natalie H.N. Low, Robert W. Lamb, Margarita Brandt, Jon D. Witman

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Sea stars (class Asteroidea) can play powerful and wide-ranging roles as consumers of algae and other prey in benthic ecosystems worldwide. In the Galápagos rocky subtidal zone, sea stars are abundant and diverse, but their distribution, feeding habits and ecological impacts have received little attention. We compared diets and distributions of the six most abundant sea star species to examine their functional roles. Bi-annual censuses carried out between 2006 and 2014 at two depths (6–8 m, 12–15 m) at 12 sites in Galápagos identified two abundance “hotspots” and revealed higher densities at locations with more heterogeneous benthic topographies. Field surveys showed a high incidence of feeding (35–68% of individuals across species) and distinct diets were evident for each species in terms of food items and dietary breadth, suggesting niche partitioning. Most species can be classified as facultative herbivores, with diets dominated by crustose and turf algae supplemented by a small proportion of sessile invertebrates. The two most abundant species, Pentaceraster cumingi and Nidorellia armata, had the narrowest diets. Field prey selectivity experiments identified P. cumingi as a size-selective predator of small pencil urchins Eucidaris galapagensis. In field caging experiments, N. armata reduced biomass of unbleached crustose coralline algae by 72%. In the context of emerging threats such as disease, ocean acidification and climate change, a deeper understanding of the distinct functional roles of sea stars can inform ecological models and management plans.

Idioma originalInglés
Número de artículo151754
PublicaciónJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
EstadoPublicada - ago. 2022


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