Alternate Title

Patterns of Dispersion, Movement and Feeding of the Sea Urchin Lytechinus variegatus, and the Potential Implications for Grazing Impact on Live Seagrass

Document Type



The sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus is a known grazer of both living and dead tissue of turtlegrass, Thalassia testudinum, occasionally denuding large areas of seagrass. Field studies have attempted to assess effects of herbivory on seagrass by enclosing urchins at various densities. However, it is unclear how unrestricted urchins affect seagrass at lower densities more typically observed in the field. This study describes movement, feeding, and distribution of L. variegatus within beds of T. testudinum in St. Joseph Bay, Florida (USA) to quantify this urchin’s impact as a seagrass grazer. Urchins were absent from portions of seagrass beds closest to shore, present at low densities midway across the bed, and at highest densities (up to ~5 individuals/m2) at the offshore edge of the bed. Urchins tended not to aggregate, moved twice as rapidly where seagrass cover was reduced, and moved > 20X faster when placed in areas of open sand. Dead seagrass tissue occurred 4—30X more frequently on oral surfaces than living seagrass tissue. Fecal pellets with dead seagrass tissue were > 3X more common than pellets with live seagrass tissue. Injury to seagrass leaves was more common along dead leaf sections than live sections (> 2—10X). Overall, spatial distributions, movement, and diet indicate that L. variegatus at densities observed in this study would tend to have minimal effects on living seagrass. Episodic periods of denuding grassbeds reported in the literature suggest L. variegatus switches to live seagrass tissue as dead tissue becomes scarce during times of high urchin density.

First Page


Last Page