I remember learning about marine ecology with a popular example of the relationship among the sea otter, sea urchin and kelp forest. Sea otters eat sea urchins and sea urchins eat kelp. A decrease in one population could give rise to another. A lack of sea otters caused sea urchin populations to increase, which fed on the kelp, severely decreasing its coverage. The reintroduction of the sea otter along the Pacific Coast decreased the sea urchin population allowing the kelp forests to flourish.
What I didn’t realize is that there is a new factor in the otter-urchin-kelp relationship that has an affect on the system. That organism is the sea star. New research from monitoring before, during and after the sea star wasting disease event that nearly wiped out sea stars revealed a dependence of kelp of the sea stars for keeping the sea urchins in check.
Check out the episode to find out how.
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