Differences in relative abundance and size structure of the sea stars Pisaster ochraceus and Evasterias troschelii among habitat types in Puget Sound, Washington, USA
We surveyed patterns in the relative abundance and size structure of the sea stars Pisaster ochraceus and Evasterias troschelii in five habitat types of varying structural complexity and prey availability (sand/cobble, boulder, and rocky intertidal; pilings; and floating docks) in Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands, Washington. For both species, small sea stars were most abundant in the most structurally complex habitat type (boulder), where they occurred almost exclusively under boulders during low tide. Larger individuals became more abundant as structural complexity decreased, occurring more frequently in open habitat types (rocky shores, pilings, and docks) known to have greater abundances of prey resources. Gull foraging observations and experiments demonstrated that exposed small sea stars of both species were highly vulnerable to predation, suggesting that small sea stars require structural complexity (crevice microhabitat) as a predation refuge. Large sea stars, once attaining a size refuge from predation, appear to migrate to more exposed habitat types with more abundant food resources. These results suggest parallel ontogenetic habitat shifts in two co-occurring consumer species related to a shared predation risk at early life stages and demonstrate how the relative importance of top-down and bottom-up processes may differ with ontogeny.
Rogers ’10, Tanya L. and Elliott, J.K. “Differences in relative abundance and size structure of the sea stars Pisaster ochraceus and Evasterias troschelii among habitat types in Puget Sound, Washington, USA.” Marine Biology, 160:853–865, 2013.