Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK



Research Article

Distribution and feeding ecology of the seastars Leptasterias polaris and Asterias vulgaris in the northern Gulf of St Lawrence, Canada


Carlos F.  Gaymer a1c1, John H.  Himmelman a1c2 and Ladd E.  Johnson a1
a1 Département de Biologie and GIROQ (Groupe Interuniversitaire de Recherches Océanographiques du Québec), Université Laval, Québec, Canada, G1K 7P4

Abstract

Extensive field observations were made in the Mingan Islands, northern Gulf of St Lawrence, to evaluate spatial and temporal variations in the use of habitat and prey resources by two major subtidal predators, the seastars Leptasterias polaris and Asterias vulgaris. Although both seastars have similar size structures and generally overlapped in their spatial and temporal distribution, the degree of overlap varied in different sites and appeared to be related to prey abundance, substratum type and slope. Three general patterns were observed: (1) both species aggregating in shallow water and decreasing in numbers with depth; (2) the two species showing inverse depth distributions; and (3) both seastars occurring in low numbers across the subtidal zone. Temporal changes in availability of the preferred prey of the two seastars, the mussel Mytilus edulis, appeared to be a major factor affecting their abundance and distribution. The two seastars occurred together in dense aggregations on mussel beds in shallow water. They consume similar-sized mussels until the number of mussels becomes reduced when A. vulgaris, but not L. polaris, begins to select larger mussels. Once a mussel bed is decimated, the seastars appear to move away, possibly in search of other beds. Intensive seastar foraging limits the distribution of mussels to a few metres in depth. Below the mussel zone, the two seastars are spatially segregated at a small spatial scale (1 m2 quadrat) and select different alternative prey, L. polaris feeding mainly on the crevice-dwelling clam Hiatella arctica and A. vulgaris on the ophiuroid Ophiopholis aculeata. The size partitioning of the preferred prey in shallow water, and spatial segregation and selection of different alternative prey at greater depths may reflect mechanisms permitting the two seastars to coexist.

(Received January 8 2001)
(Accepted April 2 2001)


Correspondence:
c1 E-mail: Carlos.Gaymer@giroq.ulaval.ca
c2 E-mail: John.Himmelman@bio.ulaval.ca