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Food webs and fishing affect parasitism of the sea urchin Eucidaris galapagensis in the Galápagos

December 1, 2011

In the Galápagos Islands, two eulimid snails parasitize the common pencil sea urchin, Eucidaris galapagensis. Past work in the Galápagos suggests that fishing reduces lobster and fish densities and, due to this relaxation of predation pressure, indirectly increases urchin densities, creating the potential for complex indirect interactions between fishing and parasitic snails. To measure indirect effects of fishing on these parasitic snails, we investigated the spatial relationships among urchins, parasitic snails, commensal crabs, and large urchin predators (hogfish and lobsters). Parasitic snails had higher densities at sites where urchins were abundant, probably due to increased resource availability. Commensal crabs that shelter under urchin spines, particularly the endemic Mithrax nodosus, preyed on the parasitic snails in aquaria, and snails were less abundant at field sites where these crabs were common. In aquaria, hogfish and lobsters readily ate crabs, but crabs were protected from predation under urchin spines, leading to a facultative mutualism between commensal crabs and urchins. In the field, fishing appeared to indirectly increase the abundance of urchins and their commensal crabs by reducing predation pressure from fish and lobsters. Fished sites had fewer snails per urchin, probably due to increased predation from commensal crabs. However, because fished sites also tended to have more urchins, there was no significant net effect of fishing on the number of snails per square meter. These results suggest that fishing can have complex indirect effects on parasites by altering food webs.

Publication Year 2011
Title Food webs and fishing affect parasitism of the sea urchin Eucidaris galapagensis in the Galápagos
DOI 10.1890/11-0559.1
Authors Jorge I. Sonnenholzner, Kevin D. Lafferty, Lydia B. Ladah
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology
Index ID 70190565
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center