Urchin Searchin’: Red urchins and drift kelp found at 284 m in the mesophotic zone

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Alexander T Lowe
Aaron WE Galloway


Red sea urchins (Mesocentrotus franciscanus) are kelp-associated ecosystem engineers found in rocky habitats throughout the North Pacific from Baja California, Mexico, to Japan. Red sea urchins depend on kelp detritus, herein ‘drift’, for nutrition; in open coast locations (e.g., California) sea urchin abundance declines precipitously with depth outside the kelp forest owing to a lack of drift and habitat. In the Salish Sea, a region of the Northeast Pacific characterized by steep, glacier-carved rocky reefs, red sea urchins have been reported to 125 m depth. Considering the natural history of this species, we predicted red sea urchins could be found deeper than 125 m in areas with hard substrate and abundant drift. We paired submersible and scuba transects to search for deep red sea urchins and quantified availability of drift to sea urchins from the mesophotic (290 m) to macrophyte zones (90% of rocky shorelines in the Northeast Pacific from Baja California to Alaska, suggesting a major portion of the red sea urchin’s habitat, and natural history, remains to be explored.

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