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Seascapes and foraging success: movement and resource discovery by a benthic marine herbivore

Cite this dataset

MacGregor, Kathleen; Johnson, Ladd (2022). Seascapes and foraging success: movement and resource discovery by a benthic marine herbivore [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Spatially concentrated resources result in patch-based foraging, wherein the detection and choice of patches as well as the process of locating and exploiting resource patches involve moving through an explicit landscape composed of both resources and barriers to movement. An understanding of behavioural responses to resources and barriers is key to interpreting observed ecological patterns.

2. We examined the process of resource discovery in the context of a heterogeneous seascape using sea urchins and drift kelp in urchin barrens as a model system. Under field conditions, we manipulated both the presence of a highly valuable resource (drift kelp) and a barrier to movement (sandy substratum) to test the interacting influence of these two factors on the process of resource discovery in barren grounds by urchins. We removed all foraging urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) from replicate areas and monitored urchin recolonization and kelp consumption. We tested two hypotheses: 1) unstable substratum is a barrier to urchin movement and 2) the movement behaviour of sea urchins is modified by the presence of drift kelp.

3. Very few urchins were found on sand, sand was a permeable barrier to urchin movement, and the permeability of this barrier varied between sites. In general, partial recolonization occurred strikingly rapidly, but sand slowed the consumption of drift kelp by limiting the number of urchins. Differences in the permeability of sand barriers between sites could be driven by differences in the size structure of urchin populations, indicating size-specific environmental effects on foraging behaviour.

4. We demonstrate the influence of patchy seascapes in modulating grazing intensity in barren grounds through modifications of foraging behaviour. Behavioural processes modified by environmental barriers play an important role in determining grazing pressure, the existence of refuges for new algal recruits, and ultimately the dynamics of urchin-algal interactions in barren grounds.


All data was collected using SCUBA diving, and include in situ observations (numbers of urchins present throughout clearing experiments), collections measured immediately in the lab (original site densities, urchin diameters and biomass, biomass of kelp consumed), or processed and then measured later (dry weight lost through dissolution for clod cards). See article for details of methods used during data collection.


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council