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Predation on feather stars by regular echinoids as evidenced by laboratory and field observations and its paleobiological implications

  • Angela Stevenson (a1), Forest J. Gahn (a2), Tomasz K. Baumiller (a3) and George D. Sevastopulo (a1)

Among extant crinoids, the feather stars are the most diverse and occupy the greatest bathymetric range, being especially common in reef environments. Feather stars possess a variety of morphological, behavioral and physiological traits that have been hypothesized to be critical to their success, especially in their ability to cope with predation. However, knowledge of their predators is exceptionally scant, consisting primarily of circumstantial evidence of attacks by fishes. In this study the question whether regular echinoids, recently shown to consume stalked crinoids, also consume feather stars is explored. Aquarium observations indicate that regular echinoids find feather stars palatable, including feather stars known to be distasteful to fish, and that regular echinoids can capture and eat live feather stars, including those known to swim. Gut-content analyses of the echinoid Araeosoma fenestratum (Thomson, 1872), which is commonly observed with large populations of the feather star Koehlermetra porrecta (Carpenter, 1888) in video transects from marine canyons off the coast of France, revealed elements of feather stars in the guts of 6 of 13 individuals. The high proportion of crinoid material (up to 90%), and the presence of articulated crinoid skeletal elements in the gut of A. fenestratum, suggest that these echinoids consumed at least some live crinoids, although they may have also ingested some postmortem remains found in the sediment. Additionally, photographic evidence from the northeast Atlantic suggests that another regular echinoid, Cidaris cidaris (Linnaeus, 1758), preys on feather stars. Thus in spite of the broad suite of antipredatory adaptations, feather stars are today subject to predation by regular echinoids and may have been since the Mesozoic, when this group of crinoids first appeared.

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