Responses to low salinity by the sea star Pisaster ochraceus from high- and low-salinity populations



Abstract. In many coastal environments, variation in salinity and organismal responses to that variation are important determinants of the distribution and abundance of species. This study examined the effects of acute salinity changes on sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) collected from a high-salinity site (Bamfield, BC) and a low-salinity site (Vancouver, BC). Sea stars from both sites were exposed to salinities ranging 15–30 psu. Following a 24-h exposure, the osmolality, sodium concentrations, and chloride concentrations in the perivisceral fluid all varied directly with salinity and were very close to the treatment salinities in both the Bamfield and Vancouver sea stars. The righting response (measured as an activity coefficient) was salinity dependent, with the lowest activity levels at a salinity of 15 psu. Activity coefficients did not vary between the two source populations. Feeding rates on mussels were strongly salinity dependent, but the salinity pattern was population specific. Bamfield sea stars fed the most at 30 psu, whereas Vancouver sea stars fed the most at 20 psu. High post-experimental mortalities were observed in Bamfield sea stars that had been exposed to a salinity of 15 psu; no such mortality was observed in Vancouver animals. This study provides evidence that the sea stars from the lower salinity environment had been able to acclimatize or adapt to low-salinity conditions. However, the results also suggest that there are limits to this tolerance, and that future changes in salinity may have important consequences for marine communities via alteration of keystone predation.