Differences in trophic position among sympatric sea urchin species
Computing, Health and Science
Three species of sea urchin regularly co-occur in high abundances on subtidal rocky reefs in south-western Australia. We used two lines of evidence (stable isotope analysis and gut contents analysis), to test whether these species occupy different trophic positions. We looked at five discrete populations to test whether patterns were consistent. The gut contents of Heliocidaris erythrogramma contained almost exclusively fragments of macroalgae, and the δ15N of muscle was consistent with that expected for a herbivore. In contrast, the gut contents of Phyllacanthus irregularis and Centrostephanus tenuispinus contained a greater proportion of animal tissue, and the δ15N of muscle suggested that animal tissue was an important source of nutrition. Of the three co-occurring sea urchin species, one (H. erythrogramma) was ecologically dissimilar to the others and occupied a lower trophic position. This pattern was consistent among populations separated by up to 270 km in south-western Australia. Food resource partitioning might be one way in which these species are able to coexist.