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Ecology. 2007 Sep;88(9):2229-39.

Reproduction on the edge: large-scale patterns of individual performance in a marine invertebrate.

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Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106, USA.


Reproductive output is a central attribute of life history, providing a measure of individual and population performance. The fields of ecology, biogeography, and evolutionary biology take disparate approaches in addressing spatial variation in reproduction, and thus we lack clear predictions for how reproductive output should vary geographically. We empirically investigate these contrasting theoretical approaches by determining geographic patterns in reproductive output for intertidal populations of the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, at 15 sites spanning a large geographic distance (9 degrees span of latitude) from central California, USA, to Baja California, Mexico. Contrary to predictions from biogeography, some of the highest values of reproductive output are at sites near the species' southern range boundary. Additionally, sea urchins do not exhibit a latitudinal gradient in reproduction, but rather show considerable mesoscale variation in reproductive output. Spatial analyses reveal that this variation is correlated with coastal topographic features that are known to influence the pattern of nearshore nutrient flux and circulation. We hypothesize that urchins' reproductive output may be driven by the spatial distribution of their food supply, drift macroalgae, the abundance of which is influenced by both nutrient supply and alongshore transport processes that are coupled to topographic features. Large-scale studies such as this provide valuable insight into the causes of species' range limits, population connectivity, habitat reserve design, and forecasting the effects of climate change on species' distributions.

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