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    Biogenic marine habitats are increasingly threatened by a multitude of human impacts, and temperate coasts in particular are exposed to progressively more intense and frequent anthropogenic stressors. In this study, the single and multiple effects of the urban stressors of nutrification and sedimentation on kelp bed communities were examined within Australia’s largest urbanised embayment (Port Phillip Bay, Victoria). Within this system, grazing by sea urchins (Heliocidaris erythrogramma) plays an important role in structuring reef communities by overgrazing kelp beds and maintaining an alternative and stable urchin barrens state. It is therefore important to explore the effects of urban stressors on kelp bed dynamics related to urchin abundance, and test the relative strengths of bottom-up and / or physical drivers (e.g. elevated nutrients and sediment) versus top-down (e.g. urchin grazing) forces on kelp bed community structure. The interactions of these drivers were assessed to determine whether their combination has synergistic, antagonistic, or additive effects on kelp beds. It was found that kelp responds positively to nutrient enhancement, but when combined with enhanced abundance of grazing sea urchins, the local positive effect of nutrient enhancement is overwhelmed by the negative effect of increased herbivory. Turf-forming algae behaved very differently, showing no detectable response to nutrification, yet showing a positive response to urchins, apparently mediated by overgrazing of canopy-forming algae that limit turf development. No direct effects of enhanced sediment load (at twice the ambient load) were found on intact kelp beds. Collectively, the results demonstrate that the ‘top-down’ control of urchin grazing locally overwhelms the positive ‘bottom-up’ effect of nutrient enhancement, and that intact kelp beds demonstrate resilience to direct impacts of urban stressors.

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    The main aim of this research program was to determine the potential for reducing the density of urchins to encourage the return of seaweeds and an improvement in urchin roe quality and quantity from remaining urchins. Tasmanian Sea Urchin Developments used two widely-separated sub-tidal experimental lease areas. One of these areas was at Meredith Point, on the east coast, and the other at Hope Island, on the south coast. Both sites had been subject to some overgrazing by urchins. At Meredith Point, the study area was divided into plots containing urchins at three densities: artificially enhanced, continually harvested and control (undisturbed). At Hope Island, controlled clearings of urchins and limpets from barrens areas were conducted. Recovery of vegetation was monitored as well as urchin roe quality and quantity. The data represented by this record was collected at Meredith Point.

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    Sea urchins have the capacity to destructively overgraze kelp beds and cause a wholesale shift to an alternative and stable ‘urchin barren’ state. However, their destructive grazing behaviour can be highly labile and contingent on behavioural shifts at the individual and local population level. Changes in supply of allochthonous food sources, i.e. availability of drift-kelp, is often suggested as a proximate trigger of change in sea urchin grazing behaviour, yet field tests of this hypothesis are rare. Here we conduct a suite of in situ behavioural surveys and manipulative experiments within kelp beds and on urchin barrens to examine foraging movements and evidence for a behavioural switch to an overgrazing mode by the Australian sea urchin Heliocidaris erythrogramma (Echinometridae). Tracking of urchins using time-lapse photography revealed urchin foraging to broadly conform to a random-walk-model within both kelp beds and on barren grounds, while at the individual level there was a tendency towards local ‘homing’ to proximate crevices. However, consistent with locally observed ‘mobile feeding fronts’ that can develop at the barrens-kelp interface, urchins were experimentally inducible to show directional movement toward newly available kelp. Furthermore, field assays revealed urchin grazing rates to be high on both simulated drift-kelp and attached kelp thalli on barren grounds, however drift-kelp but not attached kelp was consumed at high rates within kelp beds. Time-lapse tracking of urchin foraging before/ after the controlled addition of drift-kelp on barrens revealed a reduction in foraging movement across the reef surface when drift-kelp was captured. Collectively results indicate that the availability of drift-kelp is a pivotal trigger in determining urchin feeding modes, which is demonstrably passive and cryptic in the presence of a ready supply of drift-kelp. Recovery of kelp beds therefore appears possible if a sustained influx of drift-kelp was to inundate urchin barrens, particularly on reefs where local urchin densities and where grazing pressure is close to the threshold enabling kelp bed recovery.

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    The main aim of this research program was to determine the potential for reducing the density of urchins to encourage the return of seaweeds and an improvement in urchin roe quality and quantity from remaining urchins. Tasmanian Sea Urchin Developments used two widely-separated sub-tidal experimental lease areas. One of these areas was at Meredith Point, on the east coast, and the other at Hope Island, on the south coast. Both sites had been subject to some overgrazing by urchins. At Meredith Point, the study area was divided into plots containing urchins at three densities: artificially enhanced, continually harvested and control (undisturbed). At Hope Island, controlled clearings of urchins and limpets from barrens areas were conducted. Recovery of vegetation was monitored as well as urchin roe quality and quantity. The data represented by this record was collected at Hope Island, and includes results from an inital survey collected at the site before the main study commenced.

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    Data is PCR amplification results of southern rock lobster (Jasus edwardsii) faecal material tested for sea urchin DNA (using unique primers for Centrostephanus rodgersii and Heliocidaris erythrogramma) in an attempt to determine in situ rates of consumption of sea urchins by lobsters. An efficient and non-lethal method was used to source and screen lobster faecal samples for the presence of DNA from ecologically important sea urchins. Lobster faecal samples were collected from trap caught specimens sourced in winter & summer seasons over 2 years (2009-2011) within two no-take research reserves; declared specifically for the purpose of rebuilding large predatory-capable lobsters to assess the potential for predator-driven remediation of kelp beds on rocky reefs extensively overgrazed by sea urchins (North Eastern Tasmania) and reefs showing initial signs of overgrazing (South Eastern Tasmania). Data for molecular assays showed high variability in the proportion of lobsters testing positive to sea urchins, with significant variability detected across different years and seasons but this was found to vary depending on different lobster size-classes. Sea urchin DNA was also amplifiable from sediments and urchin faeces collected from the reef surface where urchins occurred in high abundance. Furthermore, positive sea urchin DNA assays were obtainable from lobster faeces after lobsteres were fed sediment and urchin faecal material. Rates of predation obtained with genetics tests can also be compared to independent rates of urchin losses given known lobster abundances within research reserves (and at control sites). Data of changes in urchin abundances and lobster abundances are therefore also lodged as part of this record.

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    Quantitative surveys were undertaken at four sites in the Kent Group, north eastern Tasmania (southern and northern shores of East Cove at Deal Island, Winter Cove at Deal Island, NE coast of Dover Island) by divers using underwater visual census methods to survey the reef habitat.

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    The effect of barrens formed by the long spined sea urchin, Centrostephanus rodgersii, on the standing stocks of southern rock lobsters (Jasus edwardsii) and black lip abalone (Haliotis rubra) was estimated by divers using underwater visual census methods to compare lobster and abalone abundance in barrens with that in adjacent kelp habitat. Abalone (H. rubra) and rock-lobster (J. edwardsii) populations were compared on C. rodgersii barrens and in adjacent algal-dominated habitat at the same depth and on the same substratum type at three sites in eastern Tasmania (Elephant Rock:Binalong Bay, St Helens Is, and Mistaken Cape:Maria Island). At Elephant Rock and St Helens Island , the barrens are extensive and well established Type 1 barrens, while at Mistaken Cape the barrens in 8-14 m are incipient Type 4 barrens, comprising small barren patches in the algal bed (see FRDC report for classification of barren types). Note that while there are extensive barrens in deeper water (>18 m) at Mistaken Cape, at these depths working time is limited and it was difficult to locate intact macroalgal beds on equivalent substrata.

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    Belt transect surveys (50m) were used to monitor the benthic community structure through time at experimental (lobster additions/ research reserve sites or abalone diver urchin culls) and control sites in eastern Tasmania. Measures of percentage cover of key algal guilds, percentage of reef grazed by sea urchins, number of sea urchins (Centrostephanus rodgersii, Heliocidaris erythrogramma), Abalone (Haliotis Rubra), Rock lobsters (Jasus edwardsii) and type of substratum were recorded.