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The operational sex ratio of the sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus populations: the case of the Mediterranean marine protected area of Ustica Island (Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy)


Paola Gianguzza, Dipartimento di Ecologia, Università degli Studi di Palermo, Via Archirafi 18, 90123 Palermo, Italy. E-mail:


We investigated, with a series of field and laboratory observations, the possible effect of the starfish Marthasteria glacialis predation on the operational sex ratio (OSR), i.e. the number of sexually mature males divided by the total number of sexually mature adults of both sexes at any one time, of the edible sea urchin Paracentrotus lividus. The OSR was estimated three times during the sea urchin summer spawning period (July 2004, June 2005 and July 2006) on barren substrates of Ustica Island Marine Protected Area (Southern Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy). Four sites were selected: two characterized by high M. glacialis density (take zone C) and two controls with low starfish density (no-take zone A). Mature sea urchins were independently collected by SCUBA diving and sexed. The adult sex ratio was skewed towards males at high M. glacialis density sites, whereas it was balanced (1:1) at predator low-density sites. Results of sex-selective feeding experiments in the laboratory showed that females of P. lividus were more vulnerable to M. glacialis predation. These outcomes underline the possible importance of M. glacialis in regulating the OSR of P. lividus populations.