Upwelling enhances seaweed nutrient quality, altering feeding behavior and growth rates in an intertidal sea urchin, Loxechinus albus

José Pulgar, Antonia Moya, Melissa Fernández, Oscar Varas, Fabián Guzmán-Rivas, Ángel Urzúa, Pedro A. Quijón, M. Roberto García-Huidobro, Marcela Aldana, Cristian Duarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Upwelling systems deliver nutrient-rich water into coastal ecosystems, influencing primary productivity and potentially altering seaweed-herbivore interactions. Upwelling bottom-up effects on distinct trophic levels are well-known. However, their influence on seaweed biomolecules and on algae-herbivore interactions and growth are less known. The aim of this study was threefold: i) to compare physical-chemical characteristics and nutrient levels in the water of upwelling (U) and downwelling (DU) zones, ii) to quantify their influence on the content of protein and carbohydrates in seaweed tissues of representative U and DU locations, and iii) to experimentally assess their effect on the feeding behavior and growth of a prominent intertidal herbivore, the sea urchin Loxechinus albus. Waters from U zones showed lower temperatures and pH, and higher phosphate concentrations than those from downwelling zones. Similarly, the tissue of seaweeds from a U location had significantly more proteins and carbohydrates than those from a DU location. The origin location of the sea urchins had a significant influence on consumption and growth rates: in general, those coming from a site with U conditions consumed and grew more than those coming from DU conditions. The quality of the algae was a significant factor on consumption rates, although in the case of preference trials, this factor interacted with sea urchin origin location. Our results show that the availability and quality of the food in upwelling zones has an influence on herbivore-seaweed direct interactions. However, these interactions and the growth of the sea urchins were also related to the coastal site and conditions from which the sea urchins came from. These results are relevant considering the expected impact of climate change on the world's oceans, and the importance of U zones as thermal (cold water) refuges for marine ectotherms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number158307
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2022


  • Algae-herbivore interaction
  • Coastal productivity
  • Food preference
  • Food quality
  • Organic biomolecules

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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