Assessing the impacts of water quality and climate change on the long-spined sea urchin Diadema antillarum to inform coral reef management and restoration in Puerto Rico
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This project aims to create and perpetuate healthy ecosystems and habitats by assessing the impacts of water/habitat quality and climate change on an ecologically valuable coral reef herbivore, the long-spined sea urchin Diadema antillarum, and by providing applicable information to inform actions by pressure managers, educators, and conservationists. This work is funded by Puerto Rico Sea Grant, and is performed in collaboration with our community partner, Sociedad Ambiente Marino (SAM).

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Rationale

The sea urchin Diadema antillarum is a critical herbivore that has been directly linked to coral reef ecosystem health. Ventures to assist recovery via culturing, relocating, and restocking D. antillarum are currently ongoing in Puerto Rico, but they require data to guide management decisions so as to avoid unnecessary losses, maximize benefits, and avoid unintended consequences of human intervention. Working with managers and stakeholders, this project will determine water and habitat quality conditions that support D. antillarum success, thereby creating specific conservation target conditions that will benefit urchin, and ultimately, coral reef recovery. The project will inform conservation and restoration plans to translocate D. antillarum by identifying the combinations of environmental conditions, site locations, and individual genotypes that are suitable for D. antillarum restocking efforts.

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Objectives

The overarching goal is to integrate our findings with local conservation and resource managers to guide restocking efforts of D. antillarum for the purpose of coral reef restoration. This project follows three objectives:

  1. To determine the environmental parameters (e.g., temperature, light, salinity, sedimentation rate, nutrient levels) that best explain patterns of sea urchin abundance and size structure

  2. To assess the genetic and epigenetic variation of D. antillarum inhabiting sites that vary in habitat quality

  3. To assess the resilience of sea urchins transplanted to sites in which D. antillarum are currently absent

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