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Sato, KN, Andersson AJ, Day JMD, Taylor JRA, Frank MB, Jung JY, McKittrick J, Levin LA.  2018.  Response of sea urchin fitness traits to environmental gradients across the Southern California oxygen minimum zone. Frontiers in Marine Science. 5   10.3389/fmars.2018.00258   AbstractWebsite

Marine calcifiers are considered to be among the most vulnerable taxa to climate-forced environmental changes occurring on continental margins with effects hypothesized to occur on microstructural, biomechanical, and geochemical properties of carbonate structures. Natural gradients in temperature, salinity, oxygen, and pH on an upwelling margin combined with the broad depth distribution (100-1,100 m) of the pink fragile sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus (formerly Allocentrotus) fragilis, along the southern California shelf and slope provide an ideal system to evaluate potential effects of multiple climate variables on carbonate structures in situ. We measured, for the first time, trait variability across four distinct depth zones using natural gradients as analogues for species-specific implications of oxygen minimum zone (OMZ) expansion, deoxygenation and ocean acidification. Although S. fragilis may likely be tolerant of future oxygen and pH decreases predicted during the twenty-first century, we determine from adults collected across multiple depth zones that urchin size and potential reproductive fitness (gonad index) are drastically reduced in the OMZ core (450-900 m) compared to adjacent zones. Increases in porosity and mean pore size coupled with decreases in mechanical nanohardness and stiffness of the calcitic endoskeleton in individuals collected from lower pH(Total) (7.57-7.59) and lower dissolved oxygen (13-42 mu mol kg(-1)) environments suggest that S. fragilis may be potentially vulnerable to crushing predators if these conditions become more widespread in the future. In addition, elemental composition indicates that S. fragilis has a skeleton composed of the low Mg-calcite mineral phase of calcium carbonate (mean Mg/Ca = 0.02 mol mol(-1)), with Mg/Ca values measured in the lower end of values reported for sea urchins known to date. Together these findings suggest that ongoing declines in oxygen and pH will likely affect the ecology and fitness of a dominant echinoid on the California margin.

Sato, KN, Powell J, Rudie D, Levin LA.  2018.  Evaluating the promise and pitfalls of a potential climate change-tolerant sea urchin fishery in southern California. Ices Journal of Marine Science. 75:1029-1041.   10.1093/icesjms/fsx225   AbstractWebsite

Marine fishery stakeholders are beginning to consider and implement adaptation strategies in the face of growing consumer demand and potential deleterious climate change impacts such as ocean warming, ocean acidification, and deoxygenation. This study investigates the potential for development of a novel climate change-tolerant sea urchin fishery in southern California based on Strongylocentrotus fragilis (pink sea urchin), a deep-sea species whose peak density was found to coincide with a current trap-based spot prawn fishery (Pandalus platyceros) in the 200-300-m depth range. Here we outline potential criteria for a climate change-tolerant fishery by examining the distribution, life-history attributes, and marketable qualities of S. fragilis in southern California. We provide evidence of seasonality of gonad production and demonstrate that peak gonad production occurs in the winter season. S. fragilis likely spawns in the spring season as evidenced by consistent minimum gonad indices in the spring/summer seasons across 4 years of sampling (2012-2016). The resiliency of S. fragilis to predicted future increases in acidity and decreases in oxygen was supported by high species abundance, albeit reduced relative growth rate estimates at water depths (485-510 m) subject to low oxygen (11.7-16.9 mmol kg similar to 1) and pHTotal (< 7.44), which may provide assurances to stakeholders and managers regarding the suitability of this species for commercial exploitation. Some food quality properties of the S. fragilis roe (e. g. colour, texture) were comparable with those of the commercially exploited shallow-water red sea urchin (Mesocentrotus franciscanus), while other qualities (e. g. 80% reduced gonad size by weight) limit the potential future marketability of S. fragilis. This case study highlights the potential future challenges and drawbacks of climate-tolerant fishery development in an attempt to inform future urchin fishery stakeholders.

Bowden, DA, Rowden AA, Thurber AR, Baco AR, Levin LA, Smith CR.  2013.  Cold seep epifaunal communities on the Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand: Composition, succession, and vulnerability to human activities. Plos One. 8   10.1371/journal.pone.0076869   AbstractWebsite

Cold seep communities with distinctive chemoautotrophic fauna occur where hydrocarbon-rich fluids escape from the seabed. We describe community composition, population densities, spatial extent, and within-region variability of epifaunal communities at methane-rich cold seep sites on the Hikurangi Margin, New Zealand. Using data from towed camera transects, we match observations to information about the probable life-history characteristics of the principal fauna to develop a hypothetical succession sequence for the Hikurangi seep communities, from the onset of fluid flux to senescence. New Zealand seep communities exhibit taxa characteristic of seeps in other regions, including predominance of large siboglinid tubeworms, vesicomyid clams, and bathymodiolin mussels. Some aspects appear to be novel; however, particularly the association of dense populations of ampharetid polychaetes with high-sulphide, high-methane flux, soft-sediment microhabitats. The common occurrence of these ampharetids suggests they play a role in conditioning sulphide-rich sediments at the sediment-water interface, thus facilitating settlement of clam and tubeworm taxa which dominate space during later successional stages. The seep sites are subject to disturbance from bottom trawling at present and potentially from gas hydrate extraction in future. The likely life-history characteristics of the dominant megafauna suggest that while ampharetids, clams, and mussels exploit ephemeral resources through rapid growth and reproduction, lamellibrachid tubeworm populations may persist potentially for centuries. The potential consequences of gas hydrate extraction cannot be fully assessed until extraction methods and target localities are defined but any long-term modification of fluid flow to seep sites would have consequences for all chemoautotrophic fauna.

Fodrie, FJ, Levin LA, Lucas AJ.  2009.  Use of population fitness to evaluate the nursery function of juvenile habitats. Marine Ecology-Progress Series. 385:39-49.   10.3354/meps08069   AbstractWebsite

Juveniles of many fish and invertebrate species are able to select among a diverse portfolio of nursery habitat alternatives. Environmental heterogeneity among these habitats generates variation in the vital rates of young individuals that may influence overall population dynamics. Therefore, understanding how these habitat options affect population fitness is crucial for identifying habitats that widen bottlenecks in early life histories and promote population persistence. We used cohort analyses and demographic models to explore the population-level consequences of habitat selection by juvenile California halibut Paralichthys californicus in southern California, focusing on population growth rate (lambda) as a measure of fitness. Although alternative juvenile habitats (exposed coast and coastal embayments) could contribute an approximately equal number of recruits to the adult stock, positive overall population growth (lambda > 1) depended critically on the subpopulations of juveniles that utilized coastal embayments (bays, lagoons, and estuaries). Conversely, the juvenile subpopulation along the exposed coast contributed negatively to overall population growth (lambda < 1) in 3 of the 4 years we conducted this study, due to elevated local mortality in that habitat. Life table response experiments confirmed that juvenile growth and survivorship were responsible for differences in lambda, and that nursery habitat choice could be a key contributor toward overall population fitness. Considering nurseries in a demographic source-sink context could aid conservation efforts by allowing identification or prioritization of the juvenile habitats most critical for population persistence.

Moy, LD, Levin LA.  1991.  Are Spartina marshes a replaceable resource? A functional approach to evaluation of marsh creation efforts Estuaries. 14:1-16.   10.2307/1351977   AbstractWebsite

Marsh creation has come into increasing use as a measure to mitigate loss of valuable wetlands. However, few programs have addressed the functional ecological equivalence of man-made marshes and their natural counterparts. This study addresses structural and functional interactions in a man-made and two natural marshes. This was done by integrating substrate characteristics and marsh utilization by organisms of two trophic levels. Sediment properties, infaunal community composition, and Fundulus heteroclitus marsh utilization were compared for a man-made Spartina salt marsh (between ages 1 to 3 yr) in Dills Creek, North Carolina, and adjacent natural marshes to the east and west. East natural marsh and planted marsh sediment grain-size distributions were more similar to each other than to the west natural marsh due to shared drainage systems, but sediment organic content of the planted marsh was much lower than in either natural marsh. This difference was reflected in macrofaunal composition. Natural marsh sediments were inhabited primarily by subsurface, deposit-feeding oligochaetes whereas planted marsh sediments were dominated by the tube-building, surface-deposit feeding polychaetes Streblospio benedicti and Manayunkia aestuarina. Infaunal differences were mirrored in Fundulus diets. Natural marsh diets contained more detritus and insects because oligochaetes, though abundant, were relatively inaccessible. Polychaetes and algae were major constituents of the planted marsh Fundulus diet. Though natural-marsh fish may acquire a potentially less nutritive, detritus-based diet relative to the higher animal protein diet of the planted marsh fish, Fundulus abundances were markedly lower in the planted marsh than in the natural marshes, indicating fewer fish were being supported. Lower Spartina stem densities in the planted marsh may have provided inadequate protection from predation or insufficient spawning sites for the fundulids. After three years, the planted marsh remained functionally distinct from the adjacent natural marshes. Mitigation success at Dills Creek could have been improved by increasing tidal flushing, thereby enhancing access to marine organisms and by mulching with Spartina wrack to increase sediment organic-matter content and porosity. Results from this study indicate that salt marshes should not be treated as a replaceable resource in the short term. The extreme spatial and temporal variability inherent to salt marshes make it virtually impossible to exactly replace a marsh by planting one on another site.